Shaolin Kungfu

Precious Duck Swims through Lotus - a pattern at the fundamental stage

Shall I focus on what I already know, or shall I learn more techniques and skills? This is a question kungfu practitioners, students and masters alike, inevitably ask.

The answer depends on your developmental stage. If you are a beginner it is better that you learn more techniques and skills. In theory, you can still achieve much if you just focus on one technique and one skill. For example, if you just learn "Black Tiger Steals Heart" in the beginning, and continue to practice it for many years to master it, you can be extremely combat efficient.

If an opponent moves in with a punch, a kick, a throw or a chin-na attack, you just apply your Black Tiger so forcefully and fast that you can fell him before he can complete his attack. By practicing this pattern alone you can also generate a chi flow that will give you good health, vitality, longevity, mental freshness and spiritual joys.

But in real life, it is almost never that you can have these benefits if you just focus on one technique and skill. As a beginner you cannot even perform the one technique, "Black Tiger Steals Heart", correctly. You need other techniques and skills, like how to perform the Bow-Arrow Stance, rotate your waist, explode force, be relaxed, go into chi flow, and attain a clear mind.

Having learnt these techniques and skills, you need to spend time practicing what you already know to deepen your skills, instead of learning more techniques. If you don't practice but keep learning new techniques, you will remain at the learner's stage and never become a master no matter how much you learn. We are all very clear on this. It is practice, not learning, that makes a master.

Thus, at the beginning stage, you should first learn many techniques. Then you should practice and practice these techniques so that you can master them. This is what we do in our basic syllabus. Our basic kungfu syllabus is divided into 12 stages, and includes not only all the four categories of attack in unarmed combat but also weapons and multiple attack as well as tactics, strategies, internal force and meditation.

The difference between our spread in our school on one hand and the limited focus of other kungfu and martial art schools on the other hand is remarkably reflected in the difference in our attainment and benefit and those of the others. Other kungfu schools focus on kungfu sets or on random free sparring (usually using kick-boxing). We focus on a much wider range, including stances, footwork, chi flow, internal force, mental clarity, combat sequences, tactics and strategies.

The difference in attainment and benefit between them and us is striking. Other martial arts focus on certain aspects of combat, like Karate on striking, Taekwondo on kicking, Judo on throwing, and Aikido on gripping. We focus on all the four categories. Again the difference in attainment and benefit is striking.

Taijiquan, Tai Chi Chuan

Sifu Attilio and Sifu Roland in Taijiquan combat during a fundamental Taijiquan course

I would like to stress a point that many Shaolin Wahnam members may have forgotten. Our basic syllabus consisting of 12 levels in Shaolin Kungfu as well as Taijiquan is at the beginning stage. It is not advanced, not even intermediate! Our teaching against armed opponents or against multiple attackers, for example, is rudimentary. But we believe that to be combat efficient in real fights, one needs to know how to defend against weapon attacks and multiple assailants.

Hence, for many Shaolin Wahnam instructors and students, the question actually is whether to continue practicing what they have learnt at this foundation stage or to learn new material at the intermediate stage. The answer is learning new material. But after having learnt the new material, you should spend some time practicing the learnt material to master it. It is the same procedure as in the foundation stage, except repeating the procedure at a higher level. First you become a master of the material at the foundation stage, then you become a master at a higher level.

Due to the ridiculous degradation of martial arts today, being a master of our basic material in the foundation stage can make you a formidable fighter already -- just like, at a lower level, someone who has mastered some Boxing or Kick-Boxing techniques can be a formidable fighter to those who do not know how to fight. You will also have good health, vitality, longevity, mental freshness and spiritual joys -- just like good Boxers and Kick-Boxers appear fit and healthy (though they themselves may silently endure internal injury) to others who never exercise.

If you are satsfied to be a master at the fuundation stage, that is fine. You continue deepening your skills at this without the need to learn new material. But if you wish to be a master at a higher level, you need to progress to the next stage. The next question, therefore, is wheher you will get more benefits deepening your present material or spreading to learn new material. The answer, obviously, is being a master at a higher level is better than being a master at a lower level.

Why does spreading, i.e. learning new material, bring more result than deepening, i.e. practicing the same material, can be explained more clearly using some quantification as follows. Suppose you have spent 3 units of your time and effort for spreading and 6 units of your time and effort for deepening. You have spent 9 units of input (3 + 6) and attained 18 units of result or output (3 x 6).

Now you want to add 1 unit of input. You may use this extra 1 unit to spread, i.e. learn new material, or use it to deepen, i.e. practice existing material. If you use it to learn new material, you will have a result of 4 x 6, which is 24 units. If you use the extra 1 unit of input to deepen, you will have 3 x 7, which is 21 units. Hence, spreading (with 24 units) will bring more result than deepening (with 21 units).

Let us see what happens if you input 2 units of your time and effort to your starting point of 18 (3 x 6) units of results. If you use the 2 units to spread, you will have 30 units of result (5 x 6). If you sue the two units to deepen, you will have 24 units of result (3 x 8). If you use 1 unit to spread, and the other 1 unit to deepen, you will have 28 units of result (4 x 7). Hence, after having a foundation (18 units), you will get the best result by spreading (30 units), less result by half spreading and half deepening (28 units), and the least result by deepening (24 units).

Praying Mantis

A Praying Mantis pattern from a selective set, Eighteen-Collection

It is important to note that you will get the best result if you spread as well as deepen. In other words, if you just spread, or if you just deepen, you will not get the best result. Let us see some examples using the 9 units of time and effort and have some fun -- as well as insight. If you just spread, i.e. learn more and more techniques without consolidating skills, you will have 8 units of result (8 x 1). If you just deepen, i.e. keep on consolidating skills without learning more techniques, you will also have 8 units of result (1 x 8).

But if you use 3 units of time and effort to learn techniques, and 6 units to consolidate skills, you will have 18 units of result (3 x 6), like our example above. Reversely, if you use 6 units to learn techniques, and 3 units to consolidate skills, you will also have 18 unites of result (6 x 3).

Now let us use this 6 x 3 as the base, where you have some techniques but little skills, and see what happens when you spend time and effort to learn more techniques, or to deepen skills. If you spend 1 unit of time and effort to spread, i.e. to learn more techniques, you will have 7 x 3, i.e. 21 units of benefit. If you use that 1 unit to deepen, i.e. consolidate skills, you will have 6 x 4, i.e. 24 units of result.

If you use 2 units to spread, you will have 8 x 3 ,i.e. 24 units of result, if you use it to deepen, you will have 6 x 5, 30 units of result. Hence, if you don't have much skills, deepening skills will give you more benefits than learning more techniques. This, in fact, is what we do in our regular classes taught by our instructors at the fundamental stage, where we emphasize skills over techniques. You will also deepen your skills remarkably if you attend my intensive causes.

These principles illustrated by mathematics here can readily reflect situations in real life. Kungfu practitioners generally learn a lot of techniques but have little depth. Practitioners of other martial arts like Boxing, Karate, Taekwondo and Muay Thai, do not have many techniques, but they have much depth. The figures above explain why kungfu practitioners are generally beaten by other martial art practitioners.

However, when kungfu practitioners have developed reasonable skills, they will not find it difficult handling practitioners of other martial arts. Indeed, our combat training on using Shaolin Kungfu and Wahnam Taijiquan against other martial arts are good examples. These simple Shaolin and Taijiquan techniques are very effective only if you have the necessary skills.

Having acquired reasonable skills, you will get more benefits by learning more techniques. This leads us to our intermediate stage of our training programme. This intermediate stage is after our 12 fundamental levels. The fundamental levels, including weapons and multiple attacks, are at the beginning stage. They are not advanced! If you have read my book, "The Complete Book of Shaolin", you may remember my mentioning that it is not easy impressing upon even senior students the tremendous scope and depth of Shaolin Kungfu.

With the exception of "Four Gates", which is a basic, not an advanced, Shaolin set, much of the teaching material at our fundamental stage, especially all the combat sequences and their resultant sets, is invented or modified by me to meet modern needs so that you can acquire a comprehensive range of fundamental techniques and skills in a most-cost effective way.

After acquiring this foundation, you are in a good position to learn classical lungful material bequeathed to us by past masters. An excellent way to achieve this is to learn their signature sets, like Five-Animals, Tiger-Crane, Dragon-Form, Triple-Stretch, Flower Set, Siu Lin Tou and Iron-Wire. We also learn the essence of Northern Shaolin, like Twelve Sequences of Tantui, Fifty Sequences of Eagle Claw, and Eighteen-Collection of Praying Mantis. Later, if the opportunities arise, we may also have an introduction to famous sets of other kungfu styles.

Please remember that we only have an introduction to these sets. We are not in any position to be specialists, meaning experts, in them. I am sorry that my earlier choice of the word "specialization" when referring to these sets, was wrongly chosen as it gives a wrong connotation. At that time I used the term "special sets" to differentiate them from our basic sets like "Black Tiger Steals Heart" in Shaolin Kungfu, and "White Snake Shoots Venom" in Wahnam Taijiquan which everybody learns at the fundamental stage. "Selective sets" would be a better term for these other sets.

Even an introduction to these classical sets shows the beauty and grandeur of Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan. We are in a very rare and privileged position to learn these wonderful arts and pass them on to posterity. On a personal note, learning this new material at the intermediate stage of our training programme, rather than remaining at the fundamental stage of combat sequence sets, also enhances our performance and benefit. We must also remember that as we spread, we also deepen, and the spreading process actually contributes to the deepening process too.

15th February 2011, Killarney, Ireland.

Shaolin Flower Set

A sophisticated combat application from the Flower Set at the intermediate stage


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