December 2000 (Part 2)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
My practise is continuing very well, and my improvement also. At present, I am going through a phase of what only can be described as 'indecisiveness''. I can't make my mind up about anything.
— Jaon, Ireland
The indecisiveness you mentioned in your e-mail was only a passing stage. Probably you have overcome it by now; that was one reason I did not reply immediately to give you advice on this passing problem. It was a process of mental cleansing. The “rust and dust” from the head was being cleansed out, which might take time, and in the transition you would feel indecisive. But once you have cleansed out the rust and dust, your mind will be crystal clear, and you will be able to make decisions quickly and correctly.
Think of the martial artists in the past when they were involved in life and death combat. They had to be calm and relaxed, and to make decisions instantly and they could not afford any mistakes. Our Shaolin arts art meant for such purposes. Happily, life and death combat is obsolete in our societies, but when we are trained to such a level, making decisions in our daily life become easy, and many problems suddenly appear petty.
This attainment is experiential and intuitive. In other words, one cannot attain such abilities by merely following a list of techniques even though he can perform the techniques correctly and understand the rationale behind it intellectually. This is one of many reasons why I have frequently emphasized in my webpages that arts like chi kung and kungfu need to be learnt personally from a master or at least from a competent instructor.
When you have attained mental clarity and decisiveness, the following method will be useful. Let us say you are undecided over actions A and B. Take a piece of paper and draw a line in the centre. On one side list all the advantages of A, and on the other side B. Then list all the disadvantages of A and B. Next, take another piece of paper and copy all these advantages and disadvantages but in descending order, i.e. the most important first.
Compare the advantages and disadvantages, and make a decision. Once you have made the decision, stick to the decision. Take comfort in the fact that a wrong decision is often better than no decision.
Those who have not attained mental clarity and decisiveness will still be undecided. For example when comparing the most important advantage of A and of B, they cannot decide which advantage they should seek. Or in the case of disadvantages, which ones they should avoid. But with our Shaolin training, you would not have this problem. Nevertheless, even for the undecided, this method helps them to see relationship more clearly.
When you are more advanced in your training, you do not even need to list the advantages and disadvantages on paper. You can see the relationship clearly in your mind during Standing Meditation. At an even more advanced stage, you do not have to compare the advantages and disadvantages, you make the right decision instantly. You would be able to do so when your personal mind is in touch with the Universal Mind.
I would like to know if you have heard of the meditation taught at the Monroe Institute, and how you would compare it to the chi kung you teach. Is this meditation the same as what you would find in chi kung, or is it completely different? Do you think chi kung would be more beneficial?
— Ryan, USA
The meditation taught at the Monroe Institute and that taught in my chi kung are very different in both philosophy and practice.
Meditators at the Monroe Institute aim to examine various parts of their body and consciousness, whereas in my chi kung meditation we aim to have mental clarity and good health. Our chi kung meditators also have a better awareness of our body and consciousness as the result of meditation, but these are extra bonus, not the actually objectives we set out to achieve.
The methods of these two systems are different. Monroe meditators make extensive use of modern technology, like audio-visual aids, whereas we use none. Monroe meditators regard their teachers as guides, and generally treat them as peers, whereas we regard our teachers as masters and treat them with reverence.
Monroe meditation makes extensive use of visualization, during which the mind is free to roam. Monroe meditators are encouraged to have images, which are sometimes extraordinary. For example, acting on cues from some audio-visual aids, a Monroe meditator may see in his (or her) mind a tree full of flowers, then the flowers turn into fairies, and he may find himself to be one of the fairies.
Basically we do the reserve in our meditation; we aim to remove thoughts and images from our mind. If we use visualization, it is for a particular purpose. For example, we may visualize chi or energy massaging our kidneys. Actually “visualize” is not a right word, but it is useful to give some idea to the uninitiated. To be more exact, we use our mind to direct chi to massage our kidneys, and we may or may not see this image of the massage.
We expand our mind, which is characteristically different from letting the mind roam. When the mind roams, it encounters many images. When we expand the mind, we encounter the void. Philosophically speaking, a roaming mind is phenomenal whereas an expanding mind is transcendental.
Of course I find the chi kung I practise more beneficial, otherwise I would have practised Monroe meditation instead. This is my opinion; which Monroe meditations may not agree.
Here are some of the many reasons for my opinion. Monroe meditation works only on one level, that of the mind. Chi kung works on all three levels — the physical, the energetic and the mind. Our results are holistic. We have a physically agile body, are full of energy, and attain mental freshness and clarity. Monroe meditators do not aim for such attainments.
Even considering only the mind level, I regard my chi kung meditation more beneficial. Monroe meditators let their mind dwells in images, which they apparently consider as real conditions of their consciousness. We consider these images as not real, but are creation of the mind. In our language, instead of letting the mind run wild, we tame the mind so that we may employ this most powerful tool for wholesome mundane application in our daily life, or for a glimpse of cosmic reality if we are ready.
In their visualization Monroe meditators have no control over their mind, but in our chi kung meditation we have full mental control. Like in the example above, after seeing himself as a fairy a Monroe meditator does not know what would happen next. In our chi kung meditation we are sure of the effect. If we use our mind to direct chi to massage the kidneys, chi will massage the kidneys; if we use our mind to send chi to the legs, chi will flow to the legs.
The kungfu training on my own doesn't go very well. I don't seem to make any progress. Every time I feel good I train a bit harder. But a few days later when I feel bad I always have to take a step back. At those moments I think the training is too though and I quit training.
— Doan, Holland
You need not be discouraged. Your reaction is not uncommon among many students. Kungfu training is tough, and at times many students also feel the way you did. But do not give up. Practise at your own pace. If you feel bad, you can stop training for a day or two. Then you will look forward to your training again.
I really miss your guidance when I am training. Could you perhaps make a daily training schedule for me as guidelines?
Yes. The following training schedule would be good.
- Lifting the Sky — 5 minutes.
- One Finger Shooting Zen or zhang zhuang —5 minutes. You can alternate between them. In zhang zhuang you practise all the important stances, i.e. horse-riding, bow-arrow, false-leg, single-leg, unicorn step, and goat stance.
- Leg stretching exercises — 5 minutes.
- Hundred Kicks — 5 minutes
- Standing Meditation and/or chi flow — 5 minutes.
- Form training — 5 minutes.
- Combat sequence training — 10 minutes.
- Standing Meditation and/or chi flow — 5 minutes.
As you may idle away a minute or two in between the items, the whole session will take about an hour. If you have only half an hour for training, then practise half of the above, and the other half in the next session.
I have tried many times to practise outside. But every time I try to train outside I am afraid of people laughing at me. I know there is nothing to be afraid of but I feel very unconfident. In Malaysia there were also people looking. However your presence made me feel confident. Now I know how important it is to have a master.
This again is not uncommon among many students. One efficient way to overcome this problem is as follows.
At first do not train outside everyday. Just train two days a week outside and the rest indoors.
Choose a spot and if possible a time where and when not many people will see you. The spot or time chosen may not be ideal, but this is only the start. Also practise only those exercises that are not “martial” or “showy”, such as Lifting the Sky, leg stretching, and gentle chi flow. Practise for only 10 or 15 minutes, gradually adding a bit more time to your training outside as you progress. Initially skip the other exercises when you practise outside.
Before your start, stand upright and relax, and gently tell yourself that you are going to practise one of the greatest and most wonderful arts of the world — and this is a fact. Reflect how lucky you are to have a chance to practise this genuine art. Practise all the exercises with your eyes open.
You will probably notice that passers-by do not even stop to look at you. Occasionally one or two may stop and observe for a while, and then move away. Just ignore them. If anyone remains long enough for you to complete your training and approaches you to talk to you, be courteous to him (or her).
He would probably ask what you were doing. Tell him politely that you are fortunate enough to practise a great art, but as you are a beginner, you did not do well. If he asks you to teach him, tell him politely you are not yet qualified to do so.
If he says you are wasting your time or he has a better art, don't feel offended and don't argue with him. Just listen to him politely and when he has finished talking, tell him that it might be so but since you have spent time learning this art, you would spend some time practising it before deciding whether to throw it into a dust bin.
After a few sessions and when you feel more comfortable practising outside, add Standing Meditation to the training programme. But close your eyes just for a minute or two
Then move to a more ideal place for training, and gradually increase your Standing Meditation to 5 minutes, with your eyes close. You can also sometimes close your eyes when practising some of the other exercises, like Lifting the Sky and Chi Flow. Meanwhile your Chi Flow movements would have become more vigorous and interesting.
Then add One Finger Shooting Zen and Zhang Zhuang to your outdoor training programme. Later, perform just two or three patterns from your kungfu set. Gradually increase the number of patterns so that you will eventually perform the whole set. Next, add a combat sequence, and gradually increase the number of combat sequences.
Should someone suggest sparring with you, politely decline telling him that you are not ready for free sparring. But if that someone is sincere in wishing to practise sparring with you, you may appropriate arrangement to train with him.
Now when I look back I see how only five days intensive training with you gave a lot of results. Although the results are less without you I am happy I have taken the course in Malaysia. Sifu please give me some advice how to improve my kungfu training.
As there are many advantages when you trained with me in Malaysia over when you train on your own, it is logical that the results in Malaysia were more. One, the course was intensive; two, you had my personal teaching and supervision; and three you were more relaxed.
But on your own, you can more than compensate against the disadvantages with the advantage of time. Take you time to train and develop; do not rush. Take kungfu as fun, and the training as a privilege.
It is indeed a rare privilege. Even in the past in China, very, very few people had a chance to learn and practise genuine Shaolin Kungfu. If you have perseverance and self discipline you will succeed. Keep in touch and when you have any questions, please don't hesitate to write to me.
I respect your advice that one should be a good student before thinking of becoming a master, but I would like to ask you one question about your becoming a master, if I may. As many people look to you as the epitome of excellence in martial arts, I think we would benefit from knowing. How much do you practise and how much did you practise while you were in the process of becoming a master?
— Jon, USA
When I was a student I practised very hard, no less than an hour a day. And for many years I practised at least an hour in the morning and another hour at night, every day of the week.
Both my masters, Uncle Righteousness and Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, were very strict and they emphasized training rather than learning. They might teach me a few moves, and I had to practise those moves for at least a few days, but sometimes for a few weeks and even for a few months before teaching me some new moves.
On an average I took one year to complete learning a kungfu set from my masters, though on my own I could sometimes learn a set, especially a simple one, after watching it performed thrice. At the height of my training days with Uncle Righteousness, when I was regarded by many as his best student, he took more than two years to teach me every night his most cherished set, “Essence of Shaolin”.
Sifu Ho Fatt Nam did not normally teach me kungfu sets — most of the sets were “passed on” to me by my seniors. Instead he usually taught me combat sequences, and insisted on a lot on force training. Once he asked me, “How would a fragile-looking girl fight with a ferocious Thai boxer?” Then he showed me a few moves. “These are from the Seven Stars Set. Its patterns are excellent for combat against Thai boxers,” he said. I practised those few moves for many months before he taught me something new.
After becoming a master and despite my frequent travels, I maintain my daily practice. When I teach I do not merely talk; I join in the action. On an average I have an hour of practice a day.
My husband and I recently bought two of your books -- “The Art of Chi Kung” and “Chi Kung for Health and Vitality” and started practising Chi Kung on our own. I have been practising everyday at midnight for 2 weeks now. I only do “Lifting the Sky” and “Plucking Stars”. I have been feeling pretty good lately. Not only do I practise but also I do things you said in the books like not getting negative feeling towards things and people, which I used to do a lot as I am not exactly a patient person.
— Maoni, Italy
“Lifting the Sky” and “Plucking Stars” are very good chi kung exercises. You are right — it is even more important to have positive attitude. I am glad you have benefited much from your chi kung practice.
But for the last couple of days I started to feel a lot of tension on my forehead — between my eyebrows, to be specific — when I tried to visualize chi flowing into my head. And during the day even when I am not practising, whenever I think about this I can feel the tension there (it feels kind of like that part of my head is getting squeezed together and there's some pressure there). But it's definitely not a headache — I don't feel any pain, just the tension/pressure.
Visualization is a very powerful technique in chi kung but you must attempt it only with a master's supervision. I have mentioned that very clearly in my books.
Yours appears to be a case of deviated practice in visualization, and you should stop it immediately. Just carry on with your chi kung practise at a lower, physical level as I have described in my books. Visualization, I must stress, has to be carried out under supervision.
Your case is not serious yet, and the tension will soon go away as you progress in your practice at a level meant for you, i.e. perform the chi kung exercise gently without bothering about visualisation. Your problem is probably due to forced visualization. But when you are learning from books without the personal guidance of a master, it is difficult for you to know to what extent your visualization has become forced.
Should I be worried? Should I not try to visualize chi flowing into my head, or only other parts of my body? I usually try to visualize chi flowing into my hands when I am doing the moves as I found this seems to be the most effective for me.
You need not worry now, but you should immediately stop practising advanced chi kung exercise like visualization without proper supervision. The tension in your forehead is a warning sign. If you heel the warning and appreciate the fact that advanced chi kung must be learnt personally from a master, you will be alright.
All genuine chi kung masters have warned that advanced chi kung exercises must be learnt personally from competent instructors; attempting them without proper guidance can be dangerous. Only bogus masters tell you that you can learn anything from their books or videos. It is amazing that so many people, sometimes without any prior chi kung experience, ignore the masters' warning.
Of course when you perform chi kung exercises at a lower level, such as at the physical level without worrying about breathing and visualization, your benefits will be much less as well as lower than if you perform them at a higher level. Even these lesser or lower benefits are good enough for many people; in fact they are so good that those who have not experienced the higher benefits will think the lower benefits remarkable.
If you want the best results, you have to learn from the best masters, provided they are willing to teach you. This is only logical. Yet, so many people, due to their lack of exposure to really good chi kung, think that they can by-pass the masters and acquire the best results by practising on their own — in less time and with less effort than what the masters themselves have put in.
I really want to practise Chi Kung and I definitely don't want to give it up if I don't have to. But this problem kind of bothers me. I am a computer programmer and I do brain work all day so I don't like the tension I feel there. Could you please explain to me why this is happening and what I should do?
Wanting to practise chi kung and actually doing it are different things. Many people want to become chi kung masters but very few people actually put in the required time and effort. Your mentioning “if I don't have to” suggests that you would like to practise chi kung if it is not too inconvenient. You would have to change this attitude to “if I want good chi kung results I have to put in a lot of time and effort, which often is not convenient”.
Whether you like the tension or not, it is going to be there. But in this case, it is easy to remove the tension. Stop visualizing in your chi kung practice. You can still get good results, as you have discovered. But if you wish to get wonderful results — results which you may not even think possible — learn chi kung personally from a master.