April 2000 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, most sincerely, for your generosity and openness in sharing your great knowledge and experience with the martial arts community. It was a great pleasure to discover your books, as they include every aspect that I had always thought the other books ought to have.
— A Bag of Rice, UK
Thank you for your kind words. One main reasons I wrote my books is, as you have rightly mentioned, many other books have missed some crucial aspects of the respective arts.
Would you please explain, Master Wong, the other no-shadow kicks you mention in your book "Introduction to Shaolin Kung Fu? I am familiar with the Organ-Seeking kick and the Tiger-Tail kick, but know nothing of the Hook and Spring, or the Clutch Kick.
The “Hook and Spring” is strictly speaking not one of the “no-shadow kicks”, although it is a famous but little publicized Shaolin leg technique. The exponent hooks his leg beneath an opponent's leg while his hands “tame” (or control) the opponent's hands or distract the latter's attention. With a glide of the hooking leg acting like a spring, he fells the opponent to the ground.
I still remember that long ago during a sparring session I used this technique on a senior classmate. To his utter surprise and my embarrassment (as he was the one who frequently taught me on behalf of my master) he fell to the ground, although he was best known for his solid stances.
The “Clutch Kick” is a lesser known “no-shadow kick”. While engaging an opponent at the top or the middle level, the exponent sweeps the shin or knee of the opponent.
Master Wong, can you please tell me the name of a technique I learned as part of a Choy-Li-Fatt set. The technique involves using two snake-form hands to deflect an attack (lower one palm up, upper one palm down), from a front Bow-arrow stance. After the defence, the counter is to strike forward with the two snake-hands, using the finger-tips. I believe it looks something like the pattern “Double Dragons Play with a Pearl” (double punches).
If I interprete your description correctly, this pattern is known as “Big Python Open Mouth”. It is also known as “Kwang Peng Presents Insignia”. If the striking points are the edges of the two palms instead of the finger-tips, the pattern is called “Sharp Knife Trims Bamboo”.
There are some good reasons why two hands are used to deflect an opponent's attack, then counter strikes him, when one hand may do. One reason is that this pattern offers better conrol over the opponent's attacking hand, deflecting it to one side, for instance, so that he cannot effectively use his other hand. Another reason is that with the two hands moving in along the opponent's arm like two snakes gliding over a branch, it is more difficult for the opponent to tell which hand is “real” and which is “feign”.
Can you please tell me the name and possibly some applications of a technique involving an upward-swinging crane's beak. The way I learned the pattern, it involves turning from one Bow-arrow stance to the opposite direction, while attacking with a long-arm crane beak to the side, striking with the top of the crane's `head', not the fingers.
This pattern is called “White Crane Rushing to the Sky”. It is derived not from Hung Gar or Fujian White Crane of Southern Shaolin, but from White Crane of Tibet, sometimes known as Lama Kungfu. Probably it came to Choy-Li-Fatt not directly from Tibet, but through Hap Ka Kungfu (or Kungfu of Knights), which was much influemced by Lama Kungfu.
The out-stretched arms resemble the wings of a crane. This pattern, “White Crane Rushing to the Sky”, may appear exposed but employs the advanced tactic of “no defend, direct counter”. When an opponent attacks you with a thrust punch, for example, or with any straight, thrusting movement to your middle level, you swing your out-stretched arm from below to “float” his attacking arm and simultaneously strike his neck with your “crane-head”.
When your opponent executes a kick — almost any kind of kicks — with his right leg, you move diagonally forward to your right (which is to his left away from the kicking direction) and swing your “crane-head” to his groins. If he retreats to avoid your crane attack, you move diagonally forward again and swing the other crane-head to his neck, almost irrespective of what he may be doing with his hands. If he attempts to block your first swinging attack to his groin, or to strike you while he retreats, your second upward swinging arm will float his defensive or attacking hands.
May I ask, Master, whether you have any plans to write more books? I should be especially interested to know whether you intend to produce any more books containing in-depth descriptions of traditional form. The explanation of the Dragon-Tiger Set (in “Introduction to Shaolin Kungfu”) was very interesting and informative. I now practise this form as part of my own training, although I appreciate that I am probably missing some of the technicalities of form and application.
The Dragon-Tiger Set is short but very useful, and it exemplifies some of the profound principles of Shaolin Kungfu. If I have time in future, I hope to provide an in-depth explanation of its combat application.
I have an unpublished manuscript on Wing Choon Kungfu which I wrote more than 20 years ago. Some years ago I started writing on the Tiger-Crane Set of Hung Gar, with the intention of bringing out its combative beauty and philosophy, but did not continue due to pressure of other work.
I have a manuscript on the philosophy and practice of Chinese medicine, and another on the Shaolin arts. These manuscripts, which I like very much, were completed a few years ago, but interestingly I have not sent them round to publishers for consideration. Perhaps I am like the proverbial writer who writes for the love of writing, rather than for the business of publishing.
On the spiritual side, a few years ago I completed a manuscript on the Amitabha Sutra, and I have entitled the work “Going to Heaven, as Taught by the Buddha”. The writing that has very special meaning to me, which I am doing in gratitute for the tremendous joy and benefit I have derived from my spiritual training under the divine guidance and protection of Bodhisattva Guan Yin, is on the Heart Sutra, the incrediable work in only 260 words in Chinese explaining the essence and grandeur of Mahayana teaching.
Amongst my own works, the one I consider my best is my unpublished manuscript entitled “The Quest for Cosmic Reality”, which is a translation, explanation and interpretation of the Buddhist scripture, “Awakening of Faith in Mahayana”, written by the great Sanskrit master, Asvaghosha, in the second century. Many people, understanably, would think that scriptures are works extolling holliness. They would be very surprised that Buddhist scriptures explain reality in concepts modern sciences are doing now. Asvaghosha's fantastic work is crucial in helping me to be awakened. I hope that I may be able to share the wisdom of this Bodhisattva with other people.
How long one should practise the stances? As I mean here, do somebody still train the stances as they have practised for let say 2-3 years.
— Hendry, Indonesia
There are various stances. Let us take the Horse-Riding Stance for an example. It is reputed that in the past Shaolin monks had to practise the Horse-Riding Stance for two or three years before they were taught any kungfu patterns. Such a demand for high standard would not be practical today.
When I first learned kungfu from Uncle Righteousness, I had to practise the Horse-Riding Stance for a few months. Although this was far from what the Shaolin monks did in the past, it was a very tough demand. Many students in other schools did not have to spend time over the Horse-riding Stance; they went straight to kungfu movements the very first day. The difference was one of approach. My tradition emphasized force training; most other schools emphasized kungfu forms.
My standard, in turn, was much lower than that demanded by my master. My students had to practise the Horse-Riding Stance for at least a few weeks, then they were asked to continue the practice on their own. The minimum time I demand from my students on the stance is 5 minutes. In the past it was the time taken for a joss stick to be burnt out, which was about half an hour. But most students today cannot sit on the stance properly for a minute.
For how long should one continue practising the stance, depends on various factors. Two influenctial factors are his knowledge (or wisdom) concerning the stance, and his scale of values. If he realizes that stance-training, or zhan zhuang, is probably the most important single exercise from which most masters have developed their internal force, and if he values combat efficiency and vitality, he may continue practising the Horse-Riding or other stances for years. If he, like most people, think that the stance is just a dull routine without any relevance to actual fighting, and if he values beautiful forms to demonstrate or to teach others, he may never practise the stance again once he has learnt it.
In my opinion, if you practise the stance daily for three months, you would have attained a reasonable standard in today's martial art context. If you continue practising for a year, you would have achieved remarkable internal force, relative to most modern martial artists.
How does one develop combat skills such as self-reflection, speed, timing, power, eye movement and listening to sounds?
There are different and varied techniques to achieve these skills. But the crucial point is that one must acquire the skills from a master who has the skills, and not just learn the techniques from someone who knows the techniques. It is difficult for the uninitiated to apreciate this point even though they may believe its veracity. In other words even if I explain in details some techniques to acquire a particular skill, someone following my explanation exactly on his own and without my personal guidance may still not acquire the skill.
But for the sake of information, I shall briefly mention some common techniques or methods used in my kungfu school to acquire the following skills. Self-reflection is efficently accomplished by going over selected responses to opponent's movements thousands of times. Speed is accomplished by regulating our breathing in set practice. Timing is achieved through arranged sparring, power through stance training, and eye movemnt through “One Finger Shooting Zen”. Listening to sound is not emphasized in my school, but can be achieved through meditation.
This division into separate, individual skills is arbitruary; in reality the skills are achieved collectively. For example, when we go over certain movements thousands of times, we accomplish not only self-reflection but also other combat skills like power, speed and timing.
Is it possible for a Shaolin Master to penetrate or fight against somebody with a black magic skill? How to generate that power?
Yes, that is possible. It is also possible for a black magician to penetrate the fighting skills of a Shaolin master. As in other situations, who is more powerful will depend on the relative strength of the two contestants. But the following truth is universal: goodness always triumphs.
How does a Shaolin master defend against black magic? If you know Chinese, especially Cantonese, you may have come across this expression: if your luck is good, evil cannot come near you. “Good luck” in Chinese is “hao yun qi”, or “ho wan hei” in Cantonese, which is word for word “good-circulation-energy”. A Shaolin master has not only good circulation of energy, but also a powerful, trained mind.
The good circulation of energy around your body acts like electricity, into which evil forces may not penetrate. Low level spirits, like ghosts, are actually scared of the radiant energy of a vibrant person.
But that does not mean a Shaolin master would go about fighting black magicians. Shaolin teachings also place much importance on another principle: live and let live.
Is it possible for me to train under your guidance for a few years?
It is possible but not feasible. The best choice is first to take an intensive course from me.
Since I've come home I have had some unusual chi kung practice. For the first few weeks I was swaying madly. Last week I started hitting my upper back and right forearm with my left hand, then down to my right knee, all in a rhythm that I doubt I could manage if I weren't doing the chi kung.
— Joan, Ireland
These movements are normal, and quite expected. They are manifestations of chi working on your problem areas. The wonderful thing about chi kung is that once you have set your chi flowing, it will flow to where it is needed most. We may not consciously know where these problem areas are — often we only know their symptoms — but the chi will know. For example, your back pain may be only a symptom; the site of the problem may be at the right forearm, or elsewhere.
We do not even have to know where the problem is, or what causes it. Once we have set the chi flowing, it will naturally flow to the problem. Why is this so? Because this is the nature of chi flow.
Chi, like water, flows from high levels to low levels, and areas of very low chi levels are where problems exist. The lower the chi or energy level, the more severe is the problem.
This also explains why when a person practises chi kung regularly, his health problems will be overcome according to a scale of urgency. This means his most urgent health problem will be overcome first, then the next urgent, and the next, etc. Sometimes, the person may not consciously know of his urgent problem, and when it manifests as a clinical illness it may be too late for him.
But if he has practised chi kung regularly, his chi flow would have overcome his serious problem without his conscious knowing. This explains why chi kung practitioners live healthily to a ripe old age.
There may be countless intermediate causes for a health problem, but fundamentally it is a disruption of energy flow. This becomes more easily understandable when we remind ourselves that life, at any level, is a meaningful flow of energy. In other words, stress, negative emotions, bacterial or viral attack, physical injury or wrong food may cause a disruption of energy flow, and this may be manifested as various diseases like pain, hypertension, infection, organic dysfunction and psychiatric disorders.
But in chi kung we do not worry about the intermediate causes and the names one uses to describe the disease symptoms; what we are concerned is the root cause and the fundamental illness. In other words, we do not worry whether the cause of a health problem is x or y or z, or whether we call the problem p or q or r. So long as we can restore health, which is natural, the illness irrespective of its cause or name will disappear. And health is restored once we restore harmonious energy flow. This concept is actually very simple, but of course those used to a different paradigm may find it hard to make a paradigm shift.
Today I was pressing areas about three, six and eight inches down from my knee on the outside of my left leg. The areas were very tender, and I was wondering if these were pressure points. I had no idea that this area of my leg was even sore , but I guess the energy knew.
Yes, these are pressure points or, if not, they are spots where your energy flow was blocked. Incrediable it may sound, your chi flow had led your fingers to these points.
This is an example of what Taoist masters described as “wu-wei”, which is frequently translated as “non-action”, and explained as “do not do anything, and everything will be done for you.” To those who have only a superficial understanding of Taoist teaching, including writers who merely reproduce what they have read somewhere, this saying does not make any sense.
Its actual meaning, as in your case, is as follows. Just be spontaneous and let your spontaneous chi movement do its work. If, for example, your chi flow leads you to press three inches below your knee, just do that. Do not, for instance, say, “Look I have a swelling four inches below the knee, so I should press at four inches not three”, or “the pain is at my back, not at my knee; so I should press my back”. If you just let go and be spontaneous, doing nothing with force or with conscious will, you will get the best benefits.
In Taoist terms, you surrender yourself to the Tao, or Nature. You do so not because you are ignorant or slavish, but just the reverse — you are wise and have faith that the Tao is all-knowing and always work for your best benefits. In Western terms, you surrender yourself to God, the infinite and eteranl, trusting that God will always care for you. But God helps those who help themselves. So, one does not really do nothing. He must first work up his energy flow, then he lets go spontaneously.
Overall my neck has really improved, but my back is taking a little longer, I notice subtle little differences every day though.
This is an encouraging sign. Recovery takes time, and you must have patience.
The end of last week and early this week, I felt really depressed. Now at the moment I have a really bad cold. Will this be cleared? .
There may be ups and downs in the recovery process. Sometimes you may feel rather bad, physically or psychologically, but the bad feelings will clear. There are reasons for this. One reason is that in the process of cleansing, sometimes the toxic waste may not be cleared out in time, and may manifest as negative effects.
Shortly after coming home I had my skin crawling for two days which felt horrible!
This is one manifestation of chi flowing beneath your skin. Many of my students have such an experience.
I wish that I could practise outside, but it is just too cold and windy. Spring is coming though, so it won't be long. I just have to make the best of what I have right now. I suppose if we could only practise in sunshine, a lot of people would miss out on something so great.
An ideal situation would be practicing in the open with leafy trees, with a waterfall nearby, an open space in front and with the sun rising. But we seldom get ideal situations.
If it is too cold and windy, it is better to practise indoors, but try to have some good ventilation. If you practise in a closed room, which may be necessary in winter, after your practice (and perhaps after you have left the room) open a window to allow fresh air to come in to flush out negative energy (such as toxic waste) which you would have let out during practice.
Sifu, thank you again for teaching me such a wonderful skill. I know that you are very busy but I would like now to invite you to my country, Ireland, to help some people over here. If you accept, Sifu, would you kindly send me some details of what you need, eg. type of place for practice, number of students, cost per student, length of stay and length of course, etc. Again Sifu, thank you so much,
Joan, I am very happy that you came for the course. I am sure that soon you will not only be cleared of your pain, but you will enjoy health, vitality and spiritual joy which you may not have thought possible before.
I also hope that one day you will become a real chi kung instructor, and eventually a master. You will then spread the wonderful benefits of chi kung to more people. What you need to do now is to carry on practising — but not over practising — so that you will soon be free of pain.
I would love to visit Ireland. My schedule for this year is already full, except for November and December which I originally left open for spending some time with my family. But I can take one week off to visit Ireland, or may be bring my family along. Alternatively I can come early next year.