March 2000 (Part 1)


Southern Shaolin

Sifu Wong demonstrating Southern Shaolin Kungfu.

Question 1

I'm a long time practitioner of Wushu. I lived in Beijing for 4 years where I got the chance to learn some Ba Gua Zhang. I then moved elsewhere where I become a student of San Cheen Do Institute, the system developed by a master finding its roots in the Tai Zu Chang Quan style which I think is one of the Nan Shaolin styles. I'm looking forward to find some more information on the differences between Nan and Bei Shaolin styles and in particular about Tai Zu Chang Quan.

— Christian, Singapore


The term “wushu” has evolved into two distinct though related meanings, and I am not sure which one you are referring to. Most people, too, when using the term are not clear about the difference.

“Wushu” initially means martial art, and is what the West would call “kungfu”. But wushu today is being promoted as a demonstrative sport, without its martial function, so that it has become quite distinctly different from “kungfu”. To compound the confusion, many people, especially the Chinese, normally refer to martial arts as “wushu”, and some insist that the term “kungfu” means “work”.

Today, modern wushu has no division into various traditional styles like Baguazhang, Shaolin and Taizuquan; it is simply wushu. Hence as you mentioned that you practised Baguazhang, I guess by wushu you mean martial art, or what in English is normally referred to as kungfu.

Kungfu — or traditional wushu, as distinguished from modern wushu where there is no classification into traditional styles — has been arbitrarily classified into two broad divisions, namely external and internal. External kungfu refers to Shaolin and all its derivative styles, whereas internal kungfu refers to Taijiquan, Baguazhang, Xingyiquan and some lesser known styles. Alternatively, kungfu is arbitrarily divided into Shaolin and Wudang, the latter term covering all the internal arts.

While these two types of classification are quite popular, they are not accurate. Regarding external and internal, there are more internal aspects in the so-called external Shaolin Kungfu than all the internal aspects of the internal arts put together. Regarding Shaolin and Wudang, Xingyiquan which is often called a Wudang martial art was actually derived from Shaolin.

Shaolin Kungfu is frequently classified into Northern Shaolin or Bei Shaolin, and Southern Shaolin or Nan Shaolin; the former had its development and inspiration from the northern Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province, and the latter from the southern Shaolin Monastery in Fujian Province. Some examples of Northern Shaolin styles are Lohan, Eagle Claw, Huaquan and Praying Mantis. Some examples of Southern Shaolin styles are Hoong Ka, Wing Choon and Choy-Li-Fatt.

The typical difference between Southern Shaolin and Northern Shaolin is expressed in the proverbial saying “nan quan bei tui”, which means Nan Shaolin or Southern Shaolin is famous for its hand techniques, and Bei Shaolin or Northern Shaolin is well known for its leg techniques. Hence one finds solid stances and powerful punches in Southern Shaolin, and agile movements and subtle kicks in Northern Shaolin.

Many commentators frequently conclude that this difference is due to topographic factors, as in the south fighting usually took place in narrow lanes of crowded southern cities, whereas in the north fighting occurred in open plains.

“Nan quan bei tui”, however, is only a generalisation, and should not be taken as a sweeping statement. Southern Shaolin also has a lot of agile movements and subtle kicks, and Northern Shaolin solid stances and powerful punches.

Tai Zu Chang Quan, which means the Kungfu Style of the First Song Emperor, is a northern Shaolin style. In fact it was one of the earliest, if not actually the earliest, style to be named individually from parental Shaolin Kungfu. In other words, before this time it was just Shaolin Kungfu.

After Zhao Kuang Yin, who was a secular Shaolin master, became the First Song Emperor (“Song Tai Zu” in Chinese), the style of Shaolin Kungfu passed down by him came to be known as Tai Zu Chang Quan in his honour as well as for the prestige of the practitioners. “Chang Quan” literally means “Long Fist”, and the term describes the characteristics of this style of kungfu.

“Long” in “Long Fist” is named after “Chang Jiang” or the Long River, the name the Chinese usually use for Yangtze Kiang, the longest river in China. A kungfu set in Tai Zu Chang Quan, and other types of Chang Quan, is not performed pattern by pattern, but in a sequence of about ten to twenty patterns continuously as if they are all just one long pattern, like a continuous flow of waves of the Long River. Hence in performing a kungfu set of, say, sixty moves, the exponent may pause only three or four times, and using only three or four breaths.

In modern wushu, there are only three categories for unarmed kungfu demonstration, namely Changquan, Nanquan and Taijiquan. You can see the characteristic differences between Northern and Southern Shaolin in Changquan and Nanquan.

Later in the Song Dynasty another secular Shaolin master called Bai Yi Feng combined five Shaolin characteristics into one style, which is now called Wuzuquan, or Kungfu Style of Five Ancestors. The five characteristics that formed Wuzuquan are Taizu Changquan, White Crane, Lohan Kungfu, Monkey footwork, and Bodhidharma chi kung.

Wuzuquan was originally a Northern Shaolin style, but because during the later Ming Dynasty a Shaolin master Cai Yi Ming popularized it in Fujian Province in the south, it has acquired many Southern Shaolin characteristics. Many people today consider it a Southern Shaolin style.

The most important kungfu set in Wuzuquan is San Zhan, which means “Three Battles”. San Zhan has greatly influenced Japanese karate, and is learnt at advanced level particularly for internal force training in karate as Sanchin. The San Cheen Do you mentioned probably refers to San Zhan or Sanchin.

To me personally the use of “Do” in naming a kungfu style or school smells strongly of Japanese influence. My opinion (or prejudice) is that anyone, irrespective of whether he is a good fighter or a master, who uses “Do” for his kungfu does not understand his own kungfu deeply enough. If he did, he would realize that kungfu offers so much more depth and scope than karate, and more importantly Japanese martial art philosophy as symbolized by “Do” is so drastically different from Chinese martial art philosophy. A Japanese martial artist in combat, drawing inspiration from the Samurai, would kill his friend without a second thought, but a Chinese martial artist would never do that.

Question 2

I have bought your book "Chi Kung for Health and Vitality" and am lured to practice the exercioses. But presently I have practised a type of Stretching Chi Kung from a Chi Kung Master for over 1 year. Can I still practice your style at different times? Will there be any side-effects by combining different types of Chi Kung ?

— Cheong, Malaysia


Different types of chi kung can be practised together at different times or even at the same time. What is important is that you practise them correctly, and do not over-practise.

There are no side effects when you combine different types of chi kung correctly. If one type of chi kung serves your needs and aspirations, it is usually unnecessary to practise another type.

Different types of chi kung, or different exercises in the same type, are just different means to work on energy for health, vitality, longevity, mental freshness and spiritual joy. Nevertheless, especially at lower levels, the various types represent different ways to suit individual needs.

Question 3

For almost a year now I have been practising the Brazilian martial art Capoeira, but of late I have begun to question it. Not necessarily its effectiveness overall, but definitely its efficiency. Though it is certainly the most enjoyable thing I have ever learned, my desire for more practical combat skills led me to your book. I was practising the horse stance, the Shaolin foundation set that is also the first set in your book, and the exercise “Raising the Sky.”

— Allan, USA


While combat efficiency is necessary, enjoying what you are practising is also very important.

Unless you have prior experience, it is difficult to learn real kungfu or real chi kung from a book; one usually succeed in learning only the external forms.


Sifu Wong applying a Taijiquan technique against Tai Chee Yong's kick

Question 4

We just aren't experienced enough to derive what was intended from the Five Animals set from the book and walk away with the results we want. We are wondering if there are any videos or additional books that go into more details on this. We are also wondering if there are any tips you could give us to aid our understanding


The Shaolin Five Animals is a comparatively advanced set. Without proper supervision from a master, one is likely to perform it as kungfu dance.

I do not advocate learning from videos as I do not want you to waste your time doing kungfu dance. Here is some very good advice: seek a real master and learn from him.

Question 5

In the mean time, I will continue to learn Capoeira, as I plan to for the rest of my life and practice what I can from your book.


It is unwise of you to learn for the rest of your life something you have started to question its efficiency. If you want to pursue something for life, whether it is Capoeira, kungfu or any other art, you have to ensure this something is the best you can get.

Practising kungfu from my book, when you have not learnt kungfu before from a living master, will only produce mediocre result. If you wish to do something, either do it well or don't do at all. Being satisfied with mediocre results is bad philosophy.

Question 6

Dear Master Wong, I have written a few times in the past but I now realize that I did not mention all the information I should have done in my mails, which is probably why you have never responded. I apologize for this.

— Peter, USA


E-mails that address me appropriately, bear the senders' names and mention the senders' countries as well as the webpage reference (i.e. from where the senders access my question-answer series), are given priority. As I receive literally hundreds of e-mails, this means those e-mails which lack these requirements may not be answered at all.

Question 7

My father has been diagnosed with cancer and has undergone surgery, where most of the cancer has been taken away. However some of the cancer is still there. There is no Western way to cure the cancer, so I would like to know the following: (which will be described in the next question)


You are right in saying that there is at present no Western medical way to cure cancer. This does not mean that cancer cannot be cured. In fact right now four out of every five persons in the whole world are curing their cancer, usually without their conscious knowing. This self-curing ability — in overcoming cancer as well as all other diseases — is natural, and is known in Chinese medical jargon as yin-yang harmony.

In other words, agents that can cause diseases, including cancer, are attacking us all the time, but through the wonders of Nature, or as some people may describe it, by the grace of God, without we having to do anything we overcome these disease-causing agents.

But, as modern statistics show, one out of five people in the world today fail in this natural ability, and cancer surfaces as a clinical disease in them. In Chinese medical jargon, they have lost their yin-yang harmony.

Happily, yin-yang disharmony is unnatural and is only a temporary condition. There can be many and varied causes for yin-yang disharmony, and in the case of cancer as suggested by Western cancer experts, these causes can be carcinogens, radiation and viruses, which can cause cancer in animals though not in humans.

It is very significant to note that in Chinese medical philosophy, we do not have to worry about these external, intermediate causes. What we need to do is to restore yin-yang harmony. When yin-yang harmony is restored, irrespective of whether the intermediate causes are carcinogens, radiation, viruses or any other unknown factors, good health is regained.

Let us take a parallel example. Suppose someone has fractured his arm. The fracture may be caused by his landing on a hard ground in a fall, or by his accidentally hitting a table, or by another person hitting him with a wooden stick or an iron rod, or by any other countless factors. We do not have to worry about the intermediate causes of his fracture. What we need to do is to set the bones right and restore the normal function and shape of his arm.

How do we restore yin-yang harmony? We shall have a better idea if we understand what maintains yin-yang harmony. The answer is harmonious chi flow, which is a very concise way in Chinese medical jargon to say that the energy that works all your body systems is doing its work naturally.

There are many ways to restore harmonious chi flow, such as by using herbs, acupuncture and massage therapy. The best way in my opinion is by practising chi kung. Indeed, the forte of chi kung is to promote and maintain harmonious chi flow.

Overcoming Cancer

Carmen from Costa Rica is one of many students who have overcome cancer by practicing chi kung

Question 8

Since I have read a lot about Chi Kung curing illnesses such as cancer I would like to know if you have any suggestions for exercises which my father can easily do without the help of a master. I would really appreciate if you could help my father.


There is no doubt that practising chi kung can prevent or overcome cancer. Personally I have helped many cancer patients overcome their so-called incurable disease; other masters also have achieved good results.

But it must be genuine chi kung, not some gentle physical exercise that claims to be chi kung. For various reasons, genuine chi kung is now very rare, whereas such gentle exercise is plentiful on the market. The crucial difference is that chi kung works on energy whereas gentle exercise works on muscles and joints.

Why chi kung can overcome cancer has been explained in my website. Two informative webpages are Cancer can be Cured! and Qigong: a Cure for Cancer and Chronic, Degenerative Diseases? A global Interest, a paper I presented at the Second World Qigong Congress.

You, your father and many other people must recognize this fact: high level chi kung, i.e. the kind of chi kung that can overcome cancer, has to be learnt personally from a master; it cannot be learnt from a book, a video or an e-mail. This is a fact, and there is no question about its verity.

The amazing thing is that so many people, especially in the West, simply refuse to accept this fact. They think (wrongly, of course, and ridiculously) that by learning from a book, a video or an e-mail, any Tom, Dick or Harry can pick up advanced exercises on energy management to cure himself of a disease that even modern medicine has difficulty of curing. If your father or any cancer patient “can easily do (the exercises) without the help of a master” and cure himself of cancer, there would not be so many cancer patients in the world.

So the question is not whether I can help your father, but whether your father wants to help himself. First he has to believe that practising chi kung can cure his cancer. Next he has to find a master who is willing to teach him high level chi kung to overcome his cancer. Then he has to practise diligently what the master has taught him. If he thinks this involves too much trouble, or says he has no money to pay the fees, then he does not believe chi kung can work for him or he does not want to help himself.

Question 9

Your book “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan” completely formed my view on tai chi which I had been practising for a year. “The Art of Chi Kung” changed my life. I have been practising Chi kung for a while because I am stressful and emotionally blocked. The problem is that after two weeks of consistent practice, not only my body is purified but also my mind. Good, would you say?

Not in my case because I have been through a lot of negative experiences in my childhood and opening up those emotions (which I can't describe) causes me to go into heavy stress and depression. This is a real problem because it just about enables me to do anything and even suicidal thoughts come to mind.

I practise “Lifting the Sky” and “Carrying the Moon” and after that induced chi flow and standing meditation. I've must have read through dozens of books on both tai chi and chi kung but can't find anything on dealing with this. I also have the same problem trying to meditate. Could you reflect on this and/or give me some tips? I practise wushu at a wushu academy.

— Michael, Netherlands


I am amazed why so many people, especially in the West, think that they can achieve in a few weeks what masters have taken many years to do. If you have read my books on Tai Chi Chuan and on Chi Kung, you should have realised what great, profound arts they are, and to be proficient in them one needs not only to practise diligently for some time but also needs the personal supervision of a master. Yet, you imagine that by practising on your own for two weeks you could purify your negative emotions, and by reading from books you could effectively deal with your suicidal thoughts and depression.

Although you have read my books and even if you have understood them, you have not actually practised Tai Chi Chuan or chi kung. What you have performed is only their external forms. Similarly, the wushu you have practised is probably some sort of gymnastics, and not traditional kungfu. Why do I say so? It is because had you practised genuine Tai Chi Chuan, chi kung or traditional kungfu, you would have overcome your stress and depressions.

Genuine Tai Chi Chuan, chi kung and kungfu are much more than their external forms; they involve training of energy and mind. You may learn their external forms — just as you learn physical exercises — from books, but energy training and mind training have to be learnt personally from a master, and they demand time and effort.

Your emotional problems and suicidal thoughts can be easily overcome if you practise genuine Tai Chi Chuan or genuine chi kung. But genuine Tai Chi Chuan and genuine chi kung are very rare nowadays, while Tai Chi dance and chi kung gymnastics abound. Whether you practise the genuine arts or their imitations is not what exercises you perform but how you perform them. In other words, a particular exercise may be taken from genuine Tai Chi Chuan or genuine chi kung, but if you perform it as a physical exercise, you would have debase a genuine art into an imitation.

Secondly, even when you practise a genuine art, you must do so correctly. If you do so wrongly, which is quite common if you learn from books without personal supervision from a master, you will derive negative effects. This appears to be your case.

My sincere advice is that if you wish to overcome your health problems, learn genuine Tai Chi Chuan or chi kung personally from a master, and practise it diligently the way the master has taught you. It is worth your time and effort. Do not imagine that you or anyone can derive wonderful effects by merely reading Tai Chi Chuan or chi kung books, even though the books are good ones.



Courses and Classes