Monkey Kungfu

Two Monkey stylists applying some Monkey tricks


I have recently taken up the art of Shaolin Kung Fu at a local club. I know that I am a serious beginner having only had a few lessons in Karate when I was 18. Now at 34, I wish to do Kung Fu for two primary reasons. 1) To learn how to defend myself in a violent world. 2) To re-attain personal fitness lost to hours of sitting and programming computers.

— Robert, Germany


Thank you for your questions which touch on some fundamental issues facing kungfu today. It is precisely to address such issues that I spend more than 9 months a year traveling the world to teach regional and intensive courses, whereas certified Shaolin Wahnam kungfu instructors in various parts of the world are teaching regular classes.

The two reasons you have for practicing kungfu are legitimate and logical. In fact, in theory, any kungfu school should fulfill these two needs, which are actually not demanding or of a high level. But in reality, very few kungfu schools today fulfill these basic needs. It is a big irony that more than 80% of those who practice kungfu today, cannot use what they learn to defend themselves. Most of these practitioners are fit, but they may not be healthy. Often they have internal injuries and are aggressive.


I have taken a few classes at the club and I am profoundly troubled. It could be that I am totally incorrect in my feelings and that would be great to hear. However, after reading your book “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu” I am having doubts about the school and the lessons.

When I came into the course, the teacher paired me with an advanced student to teach me stances. Then they went on to teach me a specific pattern that they use for greeting. After that, the training has been mainly forms. Specifically, we seem to spend a lot of class time running in circles or stretching and then the lessons seem to be disorganized. I don't get the feeling that they have an actual plan. Perhaps this is a result of the fact that I am in a class with other students more advanced than me.


What I describe in my book, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”, is what we now practice in our school, Shaolin Wahnam, and what we believe was practiced in the southern Shaolin Temple in China a few hundred years ago. What we practice is actually very different from what most other kungfu schools practice.

What most other kungfu school practice is like what you have described. As you have said, most other kungfu schools today mainly practice forms and external training, and when they spar they do not use typical kungfu forms but techniques taken from other martial arts, especially from Karate, Taekwondo and Kick-Boxing.


But the discomfort goes deeper than that. I watched the second course which is focused on fighting and I was frankly dismayed. I thought I was watching a boxing lesson and not a Kung Fu lesson.

The students were wearing boxing gloves which is fine but then they were also guarding their head boxing style. When blocking attacks, they were doing simple hand blocks you might expect of Karate or Thai Boxing. I didn't see them using “Beauty Looks at Mirror” or any of the other blocking techniques. Quite frankly this bothers me as I am not interested in Thai Boxing.


What you have described is the norm in most kungfu schools today. We believe that for various reasons these schools have lost the essence of genuine, traditional kungfu. They focus mainly, and sometimes solely, on external kungfu forms but without any internal force training and combat application.

Many schools attempt to off-set their lack of kungfu combat application by imitating sparring methods used in other martial arts, like in Boxing, Karate and Thai Boxing. Usually the result is pathetic, but some kungfu practitioners actually have become quite good fighters using these other martial art techniques, but sadly they cannot use kungfu techniques.

It is also worthwhile to note that throughout kungfu history not a single traditional kungfu master of any style used boxing gloves in combat training.

We in Shaolin Wahnam are sincere in helping kungfu practitioners, irrespective of the styles they practice, to restore kungfu combat application if they desire to. Hence we have released a lot of information and video clips on kungfu sparring methodology. Such a move would be unthinkable in the past. We are actually sharing secrets that many schools may not even tell their ordinary students. But we are willing to do so for the sake of preserving kungfu sparring as well as internal force training.


Now I have read your book, I'm dismayed by the fact that there is little to no instruction on the hand forms, the simple patterns of punches and blocks and so on. The first class seems to be entirely taken up with learning a fairly long pattern.

When I expressed that I would like to be able to defend myself from the standard hand techniques of bar fighters within two years, the advanced students were doubtful and pessimistic. Indeed, I seriously doubt (based on my rough growing up experiences) if these students would be able to actually defend themselves any more than without the course.


Again this is the norm today. It is an alarming fact that most kungfu practitioners today, including some masters, cannot defend themselves if attacked by bar fighters even when the kungfu practitioners may have practiced so-called kungfu for many years. This is because they have never learnt how to fight. They have only learnt how to perform beautiful solo forms. This also applies to wushu practitioners.

But the fact is that genuine, traditional kungfu, regardless of its style, is very effective for fighting. There is no doubt about it at all. Then, why do so many kungfu practitioners today cannot use their kungfu to fight?

The straight-forward reason, which can become a very sensitive issue, is that most kungfu practitioners today do not practice genuine, traditional kungfu, they only practice external kungfu forms. This is an alarming situation for kungfu today. If this is not arrested in time, genuine, traditional kungfu will disappear form our world within two generations.


So, am I in the wrong school or am I just too much of a beginner to understand things correctly? If I am in the wrong school, there is a problem because there are only 2 Kung Fu schools in my city. So if this is the case, what can I get out of this course other than personal fitness?


Like the great majority of kungfu students today you are in a wrong school if your aim is to practice genuine, traditional kungfu. It is creditable that you realize it, but most others either do not realize this pathetic situation or simply refuse to accept the situation.

What is more alarming is that even world known kungfu masters explicitly say that kungfu forms cannot be used for fighting! Equally alarming is that although it is obvious even to non-martial artists that what they use in sparring is Boxing, Kick-Boxing, Karate or Taekwondo, the kungfu practitioners themselves, including masters, stubbornly insist that theirs is authentic kungfu passed down from past masters. As these practitioners are the majority, they form the main stream of kungfu today, and they hold important positions in national and international kungfu organizations.

Besides fitness, you will also learn beautiful kungfu forms. These kungfu forms are genuine. If you learn how to use these forms in combat and how to develop internal force, you can convert what you learn into genuine, traditional kungfu. My Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and Intensive Taijiquan Course are meant to help people with such aspirations.

Kai Uwe Jettkandt, who is my inner-chamber disciple and one of our best instructors in Shaolin Wahnam, teaches Shaolin Kungfu in Frankfurt, not far from where you live. Kai is an inspiration. He was already a grandmaster of Jujitsu and a master of many styles of martial arts besides being a former international free style sparring champion before he learned Shaolin Kungfu from me. After learning from me, he gave up his 28 years of teaching other martial arts to his master-students, and concentrates on teaching only Shaolin Kungfu.

I would strongly recommend that you make some special arrangement to learn from him. His particulars are as follows. Tel: 49-69-9043 1678, 49-179-690 5135. E-mail:, Website: Or you can attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course. As you are a professional person and author, you have good potential to do well in genuine, traditional kungfu, and hopefully help to preserve and teach it in the future. Please see my website.

Reproduced from November 2005 Part 1 of the Selection of Questions and Answers.


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