October 2000 (Part 2)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I have been practising Tai Chi Ch'uan for the last ten months. Usually when I begin a round, I try to concentrate on a certain aspect of my body and ensure that I am exercising that one part properly. In one round, I would concentrate on my breathing or t'an t'ien, in the next round, I would concentrate on my posture and joints and so on.
— Oisin, Ireland
Different teachers have different ways of teaching. You should practise your Tai Chi Chuan according to the ways your teacher has taught you.
If you are lucky enough to have a master, do exactly as he has said. If he asks you to stand still and think of nothing, just do that. If he asks you to repeat a particular movement for three months, just do that.
If you tell him that you are here to learn Tai Chi Chuan and not how to stand still or repeat certain movements, or if you ask him whether you should concentrate on your breathing or your dan tian, you are, without your conscious knowing, trying to be smarter than the master. If he is like the masters of old, he would ask you to leave. If he is more tolerant, and much to your delight, he may continue to teach you as much as you wish to learn, but you would have missed the golden opportunity of training the way a master himself did when he was a student.
Many people may not make sense of what I have just said, but it is one of the best pieces of advice for any beginner of ten months. Failing to understand or believe this advice is one reason why there are so many Tai Chi readers or dancers today, but so few skilful Tai Chi Chuan practitioners.
And some of them, after many years of reading or dancing, may suddenly find that they have not attained much in Tai Chi Chuan. They may, for example, have little internal force and no defence against an ordinary street fighter. They may then think that the masters have withhold the secrets -- when actually they have not practised the way the masters asked them to.
How aware should I, a beginner, be of the flow of chi as I practise? Should I improve my posture and mobility first, and then concentrate on the more subtle areas, or should I try to visualise chi flow from the beginning of practise? Not being used to the concept of chi, I find it hard to visualise, though I experience great heat and tingling in may hands after the practice of chi kung and T'ai Ch'i.
As I have said above, forget about all these academic questions and practise and practise your Tai Chi Chuan according to the way your teacher has taught. If you have not been taught to concentrate on certain areas, or to visualize your chi flow, but you attempt it, you may hurt yourself.
My advice is made with the presumption that you have a competent teacher, whom unfortunately is not easy to find nowadays. If your teacher is not competent and teaches Tai Chi dance instead of Tai Chi Chuan, it does not matter whether you should be aware of your chi flow or improve your posture first. Whatever you do, you will still end up with Tai Chi dance.
Nevertheless, if you do not have a competent teacher, doing any one of the things you have mentioned is a good way to improve the standard of your practice, perhaps to a level higher than that of your incompetent teacher. You can focus on any area or aspect first, then on another area or aspect in the next practice.
But you still will not perform genuine Tai Chi Chuan; you only become a more elegant and a more focused Tai Chi dancer. There is also a high possibility that having attained some benefits like elegance, focus and relaxation -- benefits that a good dance will give -- you may have the false impression that you have attained a high level in Tai Chi Chuan or have made a break-through in your practice, and thus start teaching others your new found techniques, without knowing that you are only helping to further degrade a great internal martial art into an external elegant dance.
Many Tai Chi teachers actually have done this, and some of them are quite well known. They introduce body mechanics into their teaching, and have their Tai Chi students put on boxing gloves to train free sparring. Their intentions are good, but without their knowing, they are debasing genuine Tai Chi Chuan. They forgot that genuine Tai Chi Chuan makes use of energy flow and not body mechanics, and not a single Tai Chi Chuan master who could fight extremely well, used boxing gloves in his sparring practice.
The heat and tingling sensation in your hands are manifestation of chi. This is beneficial, but only rudimental in genuine Tai Chi Chuan or any internal arts like chi kung and Shaolin Kungfu. A student performing genuine Tai Chi Chuan or any internal arts will have these sensations in his very first lesson, although Tai Chi dancers having these sensations incidentally after many months of dance-like movements may imagine it a great achievement.
I have never practised kungfu before and will soon turn 32. Do you think that because of my present age (I am in good physical condition, although somewhat weak) it will be impossible for me to reach a level of mastery close to yours? Most masters seem to have started when they were still children or teenagers.
— Alex, USA
If you have a good master and you are willing to train hard and regularly, you will not only reach my level but can surpass me.
While many masters started young, many others did not. For example, the second patriarch of Wing Choon Kungfu, Leong Phok Khow, started practising kungfu only after his marriage to his wife, Yim Yin Choon.
An adult has many advantages over a child or a teenager. Not only he is stronger, his learning capacity and retaining power are also better. He is generally better disciplined and more persistent in pursuing set goals.
I have great respect for the philosophy/aims of Shaolin Kungfu and would like to be able to help introduce others to its benefits. But how could I ever do this if it is already too late for me to reasonably expect
It is significant to note that in the Shaolin teaching, no matter how beautiful or noble the philosophy may be, it is always geared towards practical results. Without practical results, the philosophy is merely hollow words.
Therefore, Shaolin disciples do not just talk about techniques and internal force, but actually fight well in combat. They do not just talk about energy fields and micro-cosmic flow, but are actually healthy and full of vitality. They do not just talk about the depth of Zen but actually experience spiritual joy.
If you ever want to attain a reasonably high level in any of the Shaolin arts, it is also important that you aim to be a good student first before ever thinking of becoming a master. In other words, think of training for your own practical benefits instead of thinking of training to teach others. This is a more meaningful approach. When you are working for your own benefits rather than wishful thinking, it is less likely for you to give up when training becomes demanding, which it certainly will when one hopes to attain a reasonable high standard as a student. Only when you have become a competent practitioner, you may start consider more demanding training to become a master.
Experience has shown me that ten out of ten who said that they wanted to learn the art to help others, did not even have the endurance for the most basic of training. They simply had no knowledge of or respect for how deep the art is. They were not willing to train as a good student for three years, but expect to be a master in three months.
If two identical people (for the sake of illustration) were each to practice qigong, one choosing Yi Chin Ching and the other Shaolin Wahnam, how would their realization of benefits differ during the first year of daily practice?
— Joshua, USA
Shaolin Wahnam is the name of my school, named in gratitude for and honour of my two masters, Sifu Lai Chin Wah and Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. The kind of chi kung we practise is called Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung, which is a very extensive and deep style of chi kung.
Yi Jin Jing, or Sinew Metamorphosis, is a chi kung type. It is part of our Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung, and is taught in our Shaolin Wahnam School.
What types of chi kung I shall teach my students depends on numerous factors like their background, needs, abilities, aspirations and time available. Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung is so rich that I have an exceedingly wide choice to teach my students.
For the great majority I teach a set of chi kung exercises which for convenience I call "Generating Internal Energy Flow", and which includes "Lifting the Sky", "Pushing Mountain" and "Carrying the Moon". Only to a few special individuals I teach Yi Jin Jing. They are special not because they receive special favours but because of their special needs. They are already healthy and fit, and their main purpose is developing internal force for kungfu.
No two persons are identical, but for theoretical discussion we presume they are. The one who practises Generating Internal Energy Flow will get more benefits than the one who practises Yi Jin Jing. If it were the other way round, I would have taught Yi Jin Jing as my core chi kung type instead of Generating Internal Energy Flow.
There are many reasons why Generating Energy Flow is better. It answers more needs than Yi Jin Jing does. Students can get result much faster, and it is comparatively very safe, whereas it is easy for beginning students to make insidious but serious mistakes in Yi Jin Jing. "Generating Internal Energy Flow" is an excellent introduction to chi kung, as well as provides unlimited development potential.
Yi Jin Jing is comparatively restricted; it is not suitable for beginners, yet while it is not impossible it is not probable that its practitioners can reach the highest attainment chi kung can provide. On the other hand Generating Internal Energy Flow is suitable for fresh beginners, yet can lead masters to their greatest achievements.
Indeed, I consider Generating Internal Energy Flow the best package chi kung students can get. It is not because I teach it that I make this claim. It is the other way round. Because it is the best, I practise and teach it. If x or y or z type of chi kung is better, I would have practised and taught x, y or z.
These comments are made with reference to general beginners in their first year of chi kung training. After they have progressed to intermediate levels and if they have specail needs like developing internal force for kungfu combat, Yi Jin Jing may be a better choice than Generating Internal Energy Flow.
I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to study your excellent books and glean an intellectual understanding of your Shaolin Art. In the future I will create the opportunity to study with you directly and gain true experience of Shaolin Wahnam.
Many students have told me that before they learned personally from me, they found the exercises in my books wonderful. After they have learnt personally from me, they found those exercises were rudimental.
Can self-manifested chi movements arise as a result of sitting meditation?
— Valin, USA
Yes, and it often happens although many meditators may not be aware of it or understand it. Hence many of them stop the flow unconsciously.
What should the meditator do when self-manifested chi movement occurs? He (or she) can let the flow continue spontaneously and gently. If the movement starts to become vigorous, he can use his mind to slow down the movement.
Alternatively he can stop the movement gently, but not abruptly. He can gently think of his abdominal dan tian or energy field (about two inches below the navel). This will cause chi to focus at his dan tian and the movement to slow down then stop.
For two and a half years I have been practising sitting meditation daily for at least 30-45 minutes. Afterwards, I usually experience normal chi flow feelings, but sometimes, after post-meditation stretching (Hatha Yoga mostly), I will feel chi flow become swelled, or expanded to a point in my body (hands, legs etc.). Sometimes, this expanding feeling will cause my body to actually move. Not in a negative way, but exact words to describe it are hard to find. Is this self-manifested chi movement?
Yes, this is self-manifested chi movement, if you allow your body to be moved by the chi flow. If you keep your body still, and the chi flow is internal, we call it internal chi flow instead of self-manifested chi movement. When your internal chi flow is harmonious, rhythmic movements like hartha yoga may increase the momentum. Both internal chi flow and self-manifested chi movement are beneficial.
Meditation is a form of chi kung, or reversely chi kung is a form of meditation. Irrespective of whether you have heard of chi kung, chi flows naturally in your body -- and in every living being. As long as there is chi flow, there is life. When this flow is disrupted, illness occurs; when it stops, death happens. This occurs at all levels in a living person. At the cellular level, for example, there are many points where the flow has stopped, resulting in dead cells.
Many factors can affect the natural flow of chi, such as injury, toxic waste and negative emotions. One important factor is stress. Hence, when you relax physically, emotionally and mentally during mediation, you minimize stress resulting in better chi flow even though you may not know any chi kung exercises.
Chi flow, which is another way of describing life, is natural. One does not have to learn chi kung to have chi flow. But if for some reasons his chi flow is disrupted, chi kung is an excellent way to restore chi flow.
I am interested in learning about Kung-Fu and related Shaolin arts for my spiritual development. I live in a rural area with few or no martial arts schools. I do not want to become only a fighter with no spiritual foundation. The schools nearest to me seem interested in ranks and boxing techniques.
— Chris, USA
Kungfu with spiritual development is the best of its kind. If you want the best, you must be ready to pay the price for the best, and the price may not necessarily be in monetary terms.
If there are no suitable martial art schools near your area, you have to search for them afar. And you must be prepared to spend some time in your search, for real masters are very rare. If you are unwilling to pay even this basic price, you are not ready for the best training.
I would like to eventually take your intensive seminar but would like to learn a little more first. I am not sure how to proceed.
The golden, time-tested way is to seek a real master and learn from him -- according to the way he teaches, not according to the way you want him to teach. This is the way travelled by all masters.
But first you need to know more deeply about the subject of your training, as well as how to differentiate a real master from a bogus one. Here is where books can be helpful. The following is a good procedure to follow:
- have a sound philosophical understanding of your subject of training.
- define your aims and objectives of training, and evaluate what price (like fees, time and effort) you are willing to pay to attain your aims and objectives.
- seek a good master who can and is willing to help you realize your aims and objectives.
- practise, practise and practise the way he has taught you -- which may not be the same as the way you want to learn.
- Periodically assess your training and the master's teaching with direct reference to your aims and objectives.
Can I learn and practice without direct supervision from a good master? Can videos and books help?
You can learn from videos and books and practise without the supervision of a master, but it is certain you won't get the best; you may not even get mediocre result. Videos and books are helpful in showing you the outward forms of the practice, but not the inner essence.
If you think that just knowing the outward forms can lead to good kungfu and spiritual development, it is an indication you still have not understood what kungfu and spiritual development are. Even at its basic, physical level, kungfu deals with combat, which necessitates skills like correct spacing, precise timing and versatility of movements. Spiritual development deals with purifying the mind or spirit. Do you think videos and books can effectively deal with such matters?
I have read a few magazines but these seem for more advanced students. Any direction you might offer would be greatly appreciated.
Most magazines are for beginners, and some for intermediate students. This is also logical from the viewpoint of sales. If the magazines are for advanced students, the sale potential may not be large enough to sustain the magazine. You opinion here is an indication of your not realizing that kungfu and spiritual cultivation are much deeper (or more advanced) than what you thought them to be.