August 2000 (Part 1)


The Great Bodhidharma

The Great Bodhidharma

Question 1

Recently I have heard some pretty harsh statements being made against Zen Buddhism. There are even books out that explain why Zen Buddhism and other philosophies and spiritual concepts are “wrong”.

After reading your web page, I realize that many of these people writing these book may actually be practising Zen Buddhism! Realizing this, I feel that the writers of these books are being very hypocritical and judgemental.

I want to stand up to them, but would that not be hypocritical of me (criticizing their religious beliefs)? I realize that a Zen Buddhist should be tolerant of these “attacks” on Zen and Zen Buddhism, but I also feel that action is called for. I would very much like to know what you think.

— Chris, USA


You are right in saying many people, including many pious Christians and Muslims, are Zen Buddhists without realizing it. They would consider it heretical if this idea is suggested to them.

Unlike in some other religions, in Zen Buddhism one needs not be exclusive and rigid in his beliefs and practice. He can believe and practise whatever he thinks is beneficial, and discard whatever is undesirable, without having to deny or contradict his own religious convictions.

One is hypocritical when his practice is contradictory to his beliefs. When you criticize others' beliefs, basing the strength of your criticism on your own beliefs, you may be critical or judgemental, but not hypocritical.

But in Zen Buddhism we avoid both being hypocritical and being judgemental or critical. This does not mean we do not stand up on our beliefs when attacked, but we do so calmly and sensibly.

When someone attacks our beliefs, our attitude is not of anger and aggression, but of pity and compassion. We are not angry and have no need to be aggressive because we honestly know that what we believe and practise are true and correct.

Why are we so sure? Not through blind faith but by direct experience. We know our beliefs and practice are true not because some authority tells us, but because we ourselves directly experience the truth. This is the crucial point of the Buddha's teaching.

The Buddha advises us that we should not accept any teaching on faith alone, nor on the reputation of the masters, but examine and practise the teaching with an open mind, then accept or reject it according to our understanding and experience.

One becomes angry and aggressive only when others' criticism reveals some flaws in his practice or affects his confidence in his beliefs. His anger and aggressiveness are mechanisms of defence.

If their criticism really reveals our weakness, we thank them and re-examine our teaching to see if we have missed out something important. But when we are so sure of our beliefs and practice, not through faith but through understanding and experience, others' criticism only reveals their shallowness and prejudice. We therefore pity them and feel compassionate for them.

We share with them the wisdom that we are so blessed to have, but if they reject or debunk our sincere offer to help, we shall neither be offended nor disappointed, for it was never our intention to convert.

We respect the right and freedom of everyone to his beliefs and practice, and even if these conflict sharply with what we hold dear, we shall never despise or belittle them. But we pray and hope that one day, as their karma improves, they too will have the wisdom and blessings that we are so lucky to have.

Question 2

I have been told that part of Kung Fu is learning to be hard and soft at the same time. I think I have an idea of what that means, but if you could explain it, and offer suggestions for developing this technique, it would be greatly appreciated.

— Josh, USA


Your concept of hard and soft in kungfu is probably incorrect. Hard and soft here do not refer to a particular technique, but are conceptual terms illustrating two opposing yet complimentary aspects of many dimensions of kungfu.

Any technique, depending on different situations, can be hard or soft or both. Similarly, any form of kungfu force can be hard or soft or both. For example, when you block an opponent's punch, you can do so using a hard way. Or you can use a soft way. Yet you may use the same technique in both situations.

Question 3

Also, from what I have heard of Iron Body training, I think it would benefit me greatly, and would like to know how to go about starting. Should I ask my sifu? Do I need instruction?


You seem to think that you can pick up a kungfu force as easily as picking up a newspaper from a table. Yes, you should ask your sifu, but he may or may not teach you. Not only you need instruction, you need personal supervision. If you do not train correctly, you may develop internal injury.

What exactly is force training?

Force training is self-explanatory. It means you employ appropriate methods to increase your amount and control of force to accomplish certain tasks, like being able to strike down an opponent with power, or to spar for an hour or two without feeling exhausted.

Question 4

I would appreciate any suggestions you have for developing mental focus, internal power and external power as well.


Such force or skills are best learnt personally from your sifu. If you attempt to learn them from a webpage, and all at once, you are likely to hurt yourself.

Shaolin Kungfu

“Hard” and “soft” are relative in kungfu. Many people have the mis-conception that Shaolin Kungfu is hard, and Taijiquan is soft. There are many soft aspects in Shaolin Kungfu too. The crane technique shown above is an example.

Question 5

I have been suffering from hay fever recently and my breathing feels somewhat laboured, so I thought that it might be helpful to practise one of the exercises that you described in a recent questions and answers page, since you suggested that this exercise might be beneficial for one's health and could be practised safely without a master's supervision.

— Peter, UK


Hay fever can be overcome quite easily by practising chi kung. While you can attempt those safe exercises I recommend, the best result, of course, is obtained when you trained with a master.

Question 6

I stood upright, relaxed my body, and breathed gently in through my nose and forcefully (but not tensed) out through my mouth.

I tried to think of nothing, as you also recommended before, but I did not meet with much success. I succeeded only in restricting the flow of my thoughts by concentrating on my breathing.


What you did was correct. If you could restrict the flow of thoughts, you would have done quite well.

This may appear strange to many Westerners who regard the intellect as supreme. Why should one restrict one's thoughts, they may ask.

The reason is that to get good results in chi kung, one has to enter into a chi kung state of mind, which is intuitive and not intellectual.

Question 7

You have also, in a previous questions and answers page, advised that one ought to “smile from within”.

I am not sure exactly what this entails, but you have said before that it may be counter productive to over-analyse such an instruction.

I thought of positive elements in life, and found myself thinking positively (as opposed to merely thinking of positive things). To my mind it felt as though I was smiling from within.


If you feel peaceful and joyful, you have performed correctly.

Question 8

After a minute of such practise (standing upright and relaxed, breathing gently in through my nose and forcefully out through my mouth, trying to think of nothing, and smiling from within), I felt my body tingling very slightly.


The tingling sensation was the effect of chi (or vital energy) that you had generated. Keep up the good practice.

Even if you practise this and nothing else, but if you practise daily for a few months you will find yourself peaceful and healthy, almost a different person. Many people may find it hard to believe that such a simple exercise can produce wonderful benefits.

They think, incorrectly, that any exercise or art that can give remarkable result must be very difficult and elaborated. It is the opposite. In fact all great arts and philosophies are simple, but not simplistic. They are also very profound.

For example, the practice of Taoism is very simple, and profound — be natural. The teaching of Jesus Christ is simple, and profound — be loving and faithful.

Question 9

I then proceeded to practise Siu Lim Tao. I have been practising Wing Chun (under a master's supervision) for over a year. I have been told to practise my form standing upright and relaxed, breathing gently in through my nose and forcefully out through my mouth, whilst trying to think of nothing.

I have also been told to practise the extension and retraction of the Tan Sau and Fok Sau very slowly, with a tensed forearm. Whenever I practise my form, I feel as though my forearms are “pumped” -- a strong tingling sensation similar to what one may feel when one exercises vigorously. This sensation is strongest in my left arm -- I am right handed.


Congratulations, this is the result of your having generated internal force. As you continue your training diligently and regularly, your internal force will increase.

There are various possible reasons why the effect is stronger in your left arm although you are right-handed. One possibility is that as you are right-handed, unconsciously you exerted less strength with your left arm in your training.

It is important that you must not exert brutal strength — something that many Westerners used to muscular strength will be very surprised to hear. You must also be totally relaxed. If you tense yourself you may hurt yourself internally. The warning symptom is pain and tightness in the chest.

Question 10

This time, following the exercise detailed above, I was more successful in “thinking of nothing” than usual when practising my form. As described, I succeeded only in restricting the flow of my thoughts by concentrating on my breathing, though this is better than usual.

However, when I finished practising my form I felt my knees and legs become very tired. Having practised Wing Chun regularly for over a year now, such tiredness is uncommon, especially after standing in my stance for such a short time. My breathing still felt slightly laboured, because of my hay fever, so I practised again the exercise that you had described.


You could have tensed your legs when performing the exercise, more than what you normally did. Feeling your legs tired or trembling after standing at a stance for some time is normal. As you progress and as you can relax more, the tiredness and trembling will disappear.

Shaolin Kungfu

Many people have the mistaken view that Taijiquan is only “soft” and never “hard”. All great martial arts are both hard and soft. This Taijiquan kick, for example, is a hard technique.

Question 11

This time I felt my knees trembling a little (whilst practising my form I stood in a narrow horse stance, whilst performing this exercise I stood normally). The more I thought about nothing, and more positive I felt, the more my knees trembled (my left knee in particular). The sensation was not unpleasant. My knee trembled in this manner for about five minutes, sometimes quite violently.


This could be the symptom of chi attempting to break-through some blockage in your legs. This is a common occurrence in chi kung and kungfu training.

Question 12

You have mentioned before that one intuitively knows when one experiences one's chi flow, yet neither the mild tingling throughout my body, nor the strong tingling in my forearms, felt at all remarkable to me. Only the trembling in my knees felt peculiar, though I think it is quite possible that all these events possess some bio-mechanical explanation. Indeed, from what I have read on your webpage, I believe this to be the most likely explanation, since I have not learnt personally from a master of chi kung.


If you relax enough, your chi flow may move your body from your standing position. This is a clear indication of chi flow, and not muscular movement.

I do not know about biomechanical explanation. Rather I believe your tingling and other sensations were the result of chi, and not due to the mechanics of muscles.

Question 13

I believe I would be unlikely to learn how to perform chi kung exercises merely by reading what you have written, without the personal supervision of a master. Indeed, had I expected success, I would not have attempted any such exercises on my own, for fear of harmful mis-practice.

Would you be able to tell, from the rather vague descriptions I have given you here, whether any of these experiences constitute either positive or negative chi kung experiences, or whether they are merely perfectly normal, perhaps insignificant, biomechanical events?


It is difficult to judge from description alone without actually seeing you personally. But from your description, I think yours are positive and normal effects of chi kung training.

You are right in saying that one is unlikely to learn chi kung exercises well merely from verbal description, without a master's personal supervision. If you can afford the time and fee, you should attend one of my intensive chi kung courses.

Not only you will acquire some skills and techniques that can overcome side-effects should you practise any chi kung or kungfu wrongly, your progress in any chi kung and kungfu (not necessarily those taught by me) will be at least three times better. Meanwhile continue with your present practice.

Question 14

How many styles of Drunken Kung Fu is there?

— Law, Malaysia


There are many types of Drunken Kungfu, but the exact number is not known. Many styles or schools of kungfu have their own forms of Drunken Kungfu, such as Drunken Praying Mantis, Drunken Lohan and Drunken Monkey.

There are also Drunken Sword forms and Drunken Staff forms. There are, however, no Drunken Kungfu forms in the internal arts of Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan.

Drunken Kungfu also does not exist as a style or school by itself, such as in the same hierarchy as Wing Choon Kungfu, Praying Mantis Kungfu or Taijiquan.

Question 15

Do you know where the form “Eight Drunken Immortals” came from, and who created it? I was told all other drunken forms are derived from this form. Is that true? Any info would be appreciated.


There are also many forms of “Eight Drunken Immortals” belonging to different styles or schools of kungfu. For example,“Eight Drunken Immortals” is an important set in many Choy-Li-Fatt schools, and in Choe Family Wing Choon.

The prototype of “Eight Drunken Immortals” is reputed to be from Taoist Kungfu. As there are different sets of “Eight Drunken Immortals”, there is no one inventor. These different sets were invented or developed by different masters of different kungfu styles, drawing inspiration from the prototypical “Eight Drunken Immortals” of Taoist Kungfu.

I do not know who invented this prototypical set. While the prototypical “Eight Drunken Immortals” has inspired many forms of Drunken Kungfu, it is not true that all Drunken Kungfu forms were derived from it.

Drunken Monkey and Drunken Praying Mantis, two of the more famous Drunken Kungfu forms, imitate movements of the monkey and the praying mantis, although they may draw inspiration from the philosophy and techniques of the Eight Drunken Immortals. Moreover, some Drunken Kungfu forms were derived from movements of drunken mortals, rather than from the Immortals.

Question 16

Thank you for sharing your wisdom and knowledge with us. Two of our school's teachers have a difference of opinion on how many times per week one should practice Bone Marrow Washing Qigong. Both teachers were taught by the same master.

One teacher believes that this qigong should only be done once per week. The other remembers doing it twice per week. Could it be that this qigong is based not on times per week but on individual's needs? I am presently doing it only once per week, for both teachers agree that over doing this qigong could harm me in some way.

— Clyde, USA


How many times per week should one practise a particular type of qigong, depends on numerous factors such as the purpose of the training, the individual needs as well as attainment level of the practitioner, and the philosophy of the teacher. Hence, different teachers may suggest different answers.

My personal opinion is that to get the best result from the training of any qigong, including Bone Marrow Washing Qigong, one should practise twice a day, everyday of the week. My opinion follows the two principal tenets of force training, namely “Gradual Progress” and “Persistent Training”.

Gradual Progress (cham chun in Cantonese pronunciation) dictates that the practitioner must increase his force gradually so as to allow his body systems sufficient time to adjust to the new force level. If the increase of force is too sudden or too sharp, the practitioner may hurt himself. Over-doing any type of qigong is harmful.

Persistent Training (hung sam in Cantonese pronunciation) dictates that the training must be continuous so that the gradual increment of force can be accumulated to a substantial level. If the intervals between training sessions are too wide, the accumulated force may diminish, resulting in a state dread by devoted practitioners, known in Cantonese as cheen kung chun fai, which means “the previously accumulated force is all lost”.

Quantifying the concept may give a clearer idea of the training process. Suppose the practitioner starts from 0 (no force) to 10 (force accomplished). The following modes of training would have these results.

Training once a week: 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1. Training twice a week: 0 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2. Training every day for some time, stop for some time, then resume training: 0 1 2 3 0 0 2 3 1 2. Training every day continuously: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10.

For how long should the practitioner train before his force is accomplished? It depends on what level is aimed at and what force is being trained. Nevertheless, past masters suggested chiew man sam chiow, which means “morning and evening for three autumns”.

If the practice is yiat shyu sap hon, which is “one day hot, ten days cold”, the practitioner would never accomplish the force no matter for how long he trains.

The level in the past was remarkably higher than what we can ever hope for nowadays. If one can train everyday for six months, he will attain a reasonable level for our modern standard. But if he trains on and off, he would never accomplish his objective even he started training years ago.

This training programme is meant for acquiring new force or skills. If one already has the force and intends to maintain it, or if that particular training is meant as supplement to other force training, then he needs to train only once or twice per week.



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