September 2000 (Part 3)


One Finger Stabilizing Central Plain

An illustration from an old kungfu classic showing a pattern called "One Finger Stabilizing Central Plain" demonstrated by the great master Lam Sai Weng. This is a very important pattern in the "Tiger-Crane Set" for internal force training.

Question 1

Is there any Chinese term for the poetical names of kungfu techniques (usually consisting of 4 characters)? Can you please briefly explain the role of these names?

— Pavel, Czech Republic


There is no specific generic term for these names. In Chinese the names are generally referred to as "chiew shik ming cheng", which means "names of patterns". But sometimes they may be called "khuen khuit" or "ko khuit", which means "formulae of the set", or "song of the formulae of the set". The transcriptions are in Cantonese pronunciation.

"Khuen khuit" or "kor khuit", however, are not exact terms because they also refer to short poetic sayings or "martial proverbs" as you mentioned below. The sayings are often in seven characters each, describing the essence or secrets of the set.

The main function of these names is for identification, i.e. each kungfu pattern or movement is identified with a particular name which is usually in four characters. These four characters are not only meaningful but also poetic and pleasant-sounding. Such a development is unique in Chinese martial arts; no other marital arts of any other countries have reached this stage of development.

This name identification has many benefits. For example, instead of giving a lengthy description of how to perform a particular kungfu pattern, a Chinese martial artist just mentions its name. This is very common during set practice. For example, when a student gets stuck during set training, his instructor mentions, for instance, "White Snake Shoots Venom", which successfully prompt the student to continue.

A student may tell his si-heng, or senior classmate, "During a sparring practice with a friend, he twisted my arm behind my back and I didn't know what to do." His si-heng can help him to solve the problem by advising him to use "Golden Cockerel Locks Throat" or "Kuan Peng Carries Insignia". The student must of course know what these two patterns are, and have the required skill to implement them.

More significantly, these names preserve for us the legacy of past masters. This in fact is one of the principal ways how we at the present times know what kind of kungfu past exponents had. Not only complete kungfu sets but also combat sequences and particular techniques have been recorded in such poetic names. By reading these records, a modern master can reproduce and build upon what past masters did, and therefore benefit from their centuries of development.

These names also reveal the inner essence of the patterns. For example, many attacks can be effectively countered by using "Single Tiger Emerges from Cave" or "Green Dragon Plays with Water". But why or when do we prefer one counter-pattern to the other? "Tiger" and "Dragon" in their names suggest some good answers. Amongst other factors, in the "Tiger" pattern one uses internal force; in the "Dragon" pattern one employs swerving movement.

The name of a pattern can help a student manifest the essence of that pattern. For example, when performing "Single Tiger Emerges from Cave" in set training or sparring practice, he should manifest the courage, power and agility of a tiger. If he performs the pattern like a cat, he would have missed its essence.

Question 2

Could you please help me with the translation of the poetical names of the techniques, taken from Grandmaster Lam Sai Weng's book on "Tiger Crane Double Appearance Set" (Fu Hok Seong Ying Khuen)? I have problems translating Patterns 7, 19, 23, 26, 43, 66, 84, 88, 89 and 90.


Different persons understandably would translate the same names differently. Mine is as follows, guided by the principles of conveying the meaning correctly as well as retaining the original flavour as much as possible, but my translation may be odd or even meaningless because of the linguistic and cultural differences between Chinese and English.

Other persons following different principles will translate differently. For example Pattern 7 below translated by me as "One Finger Stabilizing Central Plain", may be translated by someone favouring a figurative approach according to English grammar as "Placing one finger in front of the body". This may make sense to Western readers, but both these Western readers as well as kungfu masters may not know how this pattern is performed. On the other hand, the uninitiated will find my translation meaningless, but the initiated will know what pattern is being named.

Pattern 7: One Finger Stabilizing Central Plain.
Pattern 19: Stabilizing Double Golden Bridges
Pattern 23: Big Boss Lifts Bronze Vessel.
Pattern 26: Left Hand Breaks Flank.
Pattern 43: Double Bows Embrace Moon.
Pattern 66: Plucking Flower with Palm.
Pattern 84: One-Finger-Lead Technique
Pattern 88: Continuous Lock and Hit.
Pattern 89: Arrow Punch from Armpit.
Pattern 90: Hook-Spring Leg Technique.

Question 3

Many styles of Chinese kungfu have their own "martial proverbs" (khuen khuit). Could you please mention some of the most typical sayings, describing training, principles, combat and flavour of Shaolin Kungfu?


The following verse describes the essence of the Single Tiger Claw and Double Tiger Claws of Shaolin or Hoong Ka Kungfu, especially for Kung Tze Fok Fu or Taming Tiger Set.

     Seong fu tze ng ma than yew
     Pok chin chim thip ngat pik khiew
     Tang fu sui yew sheng yin hap
     Tik mei fok si mat hai kiew

The translation is as follows:

     Double tigers bow arrow is stretched
     Forward close in bridge be pressed
     Single tiger necessary the body right
     Being vain before subduing is not bright

The above verse is non-sensical to most people. The meaning is briefly as follows. When applying the Double Tiger Claws in combat, stretch your Bow-Arrow Stance so that you press forward against the opponent. Use your hands or arms to "tame" or close the opponent's arms so that their movements are restricted. When applying the Single Tiger Claw, it is necessary to have your body position right. Even when you have your opponent under control, do not be vain; do not forget that he may with one move turn a defeat into victory.

The verse is necessarily concise. It is not meant to teach any new skills, techniques, tactics or strategies -- the student already knows them. The purpose of the verse is to remind the students of the crucial points when applying the Tiger Claws.

Question 4

Could you please tell me something about the great Grandmaster Lam Sai Weng?


Lam Sai Weng was a great Southern Shaolin master who learned from the legendary master Wong Fei Hoong. Nowadays we refer to their style of kungfu as Hoong Ka Kungfu but during his time it was generally known as Shaolin Kungfu.

Previously Lam Sai Weng was a pork seller. Hence he was nicknamed "Chiu Yoke Weng" or "Pocky Weng". Later he became a professional kungfu teacher, and was the most important in spreading Hoong Ka Kungfu to posterity.

There are many stories regarding Lam Sai Weng. Once his sifu Wong Fei Hoong was ambushed by about a hundred hired killers in Lok Seen Theatre. Lam Sai Weng led some classmates and risked their lives to help Wong Fei Hoong fight his way out of the ambush.

Lam Sai Weng was best known for his solid horse-stance, powerful arms and tiger-claws. Everyday he practised for hours what was called "Phor Long Sau Fatt" or the "Technique of Wave Breaking Hands". He sat on the horse-riding stance, and separated his two arms against a thick rope tied in a loop. When the thick rope could not withstand the strikes of his arms, he changed the rope for plaits of human hair.

One day a bully called Lau Sam Ming who was an expert in Northern Shaolin Kungfu challenged Lam Sai Weng to a duel. Law jumped up and executed double flying kicks at Lam Sai Weng. Lam Sai Weng remained at his horse-riding stance and used his "Wave-Breaking Arms" to block the kicks.

This was actually a bad technique to counter a kicking attack, but Lam Sai Weng's arms were so powerful that his internal force more than compensated for the poor technique. The kicking expert was thrown back many feet by the block, and could not get up as both his legs were fractured.

Question 5

Can you please briefly describe the three famous sets of Southern Shaolin Kungfu, namely "Kung Tze Fok Fu Khyun" (Taming of the Tiger Set) "Fu Hok Seong Ying Khyun" (Tiger and Crane Double Appearance Set) and Thit Seen Khyun (Iron Wire Set)? Can you please briefly describe the differences between your and Lam Sai Weng's versions?


"Taming the Tiger", "Tiger and Crane" and "Iron Wire" are the three fundamental sets of Southern Shaolin or Hoong Ka Kungfu. If a person can perform and apply only these three sets well, he can be a very formidable fighter.

"Taming the Tiger" and "Tiger and Crane" are meant for combat efficiency. They are also very beautiful to watch. "Taming the Tiger", which composes mainly of tiger patterns, is comparatively "hard" and is well known for its tiger-claws.

"Tiger and Crane", which is a composition of Lohan, tiger and crane patterns, is both "hard" and "soft", and besides the long-reaching movements of the Lohan patterns and the tiger-claws of the tiger patterns, is also famous for "no-shadow kicks". These kicks, which are characteristically different from kicks in Taekwondo and Thai Boxing, are so fast that there is no time even for shadows. Wong Fei Hoong was famous for his "no-shadow kicks".

"Iron Wire" is a very advanced set meant for internal force training. It should be practised under the supervision of a master. Faulty training can lead to serious injury. The whole set is performed mainly on the horse-riding stance and the goat-stance, and the patterns are not beautiful to watch. Various appropriate sounds are made when performing this set.

The essence of this advanced set is expressed in its "poetic formula" of only 14 words, namely

     kong yau pik chek fan ting chun
     thai lau wang jai ding tian kuen

Even to many advanced kungfu exponents, these 14 words may be meaningless, but they sum up the twelve types of internal force that are developed by practising this internal set.

I have three different versions of the "Tiger and Crane". Apart from a short version that I learned from Uncle Righteousness, and a medium version I learned from Sifu Choe Hoong Choy of Wing Choon, my long version of the "Tiger and Crane" Set as well as my "Taming the Tiger" and "Iron Wire" are similar to those of Sifu Lam Sai Weng.

Hook-Spring Leg Technique

The "Hook-spring Leg Technique" demonstrated by the great master Lam Sai Weng. This is a well-known but little understood leg technique of Southern Shaolin Kungfu. Merely looking at the illustration, very few people could know what the technique is about. I have no doubt that this technique is very effective. In my early days of kungfu training I once used this technique during sparring to fell my si-heng (senior classmate) -- quite to our surprise. This was a significant landmark in my kungfu development, for my si-heng was best known among kungfu circles for his stable horse-stance!

Question 6

Can you please explain the nature of the techniques of Five Elements, as seen in "Ten Forms Set" (Five Animals and Five Elements Set)?


"Sap Ying Khuen" or "Ten Forms Set" is actually not from traditional Hoong Ka Kungfu. It was invented only recently (about 1950s or 1960s) by Kwan Tuck Heng, who was a master not of Hoong Ka Kungfu but of White Crane Kungfu. But Kwan Tuck Heng acted so well as the legendary Wong Fei Hoong in many Hong Kong Cantonese kungfu movies that many people thought he was a Hoong Ka master.

The "Ten Forms Set" draws inspiration from the five Shaolin animals of dragon, snake, tiger, leopard and crane, and the five elemental processes of metal, water, wood, fire and earth.

Personally I do not think this "Ten Forms Set" add any value to Hoong Ka Kungfu; rather, it distracts from it. Hoong Ka Kungfu is famous for its specialization in the tiger and crane patterns; which have proven to be excellent for combative as well as non-combative functions. Adding more animal styles only serve to undermine this specialization.

The skills and techniques represented by the five elemental processes of metal, water, wood, fire and earth are already found in Hoong Ka Kungfu. Moreover, I find its mode of classification into the five processes rather artificial, and often does not agree with the established five elemental processes philosophy.

For example, a thrust punch which manifests an arrow shooting out, is classified as a fire process because of an expression "fire arrow", but in the traditional Chinese philosophy, "fire" symbolizes rising. "Clamping" an opponent's punch is classified as "wood" because this pattern is named "technique of clamping wood", but in the philosophy "wood" symbolizes growth.

Question 7

My teacher is my Si Fu, his teacher my Si Gung. What is the appropriate title for the teacher of my Si Gung and his own teacher? How do we address older generations? Is there any term for the founder? What is the meaning and difference between the following terms/titles: Si Tai Gung, Si Jo, Jo Si, Jung Si?


Your si-gung's teacher is called si-tai-gung, and his teacher is called si-jo. The founder of a system or the head of a generation line is called jo-si.

Jung-si means "teacher of the tradition". This title is usually addressed to the living head of a system. It is also sometimes addressed to a famous master.

Let us take this generation line as an example. Chee Seen --> Lok Ah Choy --> Wong Kai Ying --> Wong Fei Hoong --> Lam Sai Weng --> Lam Jo.

Lam Jo would address Lam Sai Weng as sifu, Wong Fei Hoong as si-gung, Wong Kai Ying as si-tai-gung, and Lok Ah Choy as si-jo. Anyone in this generation line from Wong Fei Hoong downward, including students today, would address Chee Seen, being the head of the generation line, as jo-si. Technically, Lok Ah Choy and Wong Kai Ying could also address Chee Seen as jo-si, but usually they would not because they were close enough to call him si-gung and sifu respectively.

Chee Seen is the jung-si of the system. But Lok Ah Choy, Wong Kai Ying, Wong Fei Hoong and Lam Sai Weng, being famous masters, can rightly be referred to as jung-si too.

Question 8

In the case of Hung Gar (Hoong Ka) style, who is the first generation -- Venerable Jisin (Chee Seen) or Hung Hei Gun or Luk Achoi?


In the western context, this is a problematic question. But in the Chinese context, there is no problem because the Chinese generally do not pay too much attention to rigid definition or classification.

Who is at the first generation level, depends on the point of reference. Those who emphasize their art as Hoong Ka Kungfu will be likely to regard Hoong Hei Khoon as the first generation. Those who trace their line directly to Luk Ah Choy will regard him as the first generation. Others who call their art Southern Shaolin rather than Hoong Ka, are likely to consider Chee Seen as the first generation.

Will there be confusion? No, because when listing the generation line, the starting point is usually mentioned. For example, Lam Jo would say he was the sixth generation successor of Southern Shaolin Kungfu from Chee Seen, or the third generation successor of Hoong Ka Kungfu from Wong Fei Hoong.

On a personal note, although today students of Chin Wah Hoong Ka Kungfu Gymnasium refer to their kungfu as Hoong Ka, when I learned kungfu from my sifu Lai Chin Wah (or Uncle Righteousness, as he was more popularly known), we referred to our kungfu as Shaolin. Every night before we began our kungfu training, we offered joss sticks to Chee Seen, our first patriarch or jo-si.

My generation line from Chee Seen (which means Extreme Kindness) is as follows. Venerable Chee Seen --> Venerable Harng Yin --> Chan Fook --> Ng Yew Loong --> Lai Chin Wah (Uncle Righteousness) --> Wong Kiew Kit.

kungfu sparring

An old photograph showing Sifu Wong (right) using a pattern from the "Tiger-Crane Set" called "Lohan Emerges from a Cave" in a sparring seesion with his si-dai (junior classmate), who responds with "Golden Dragon Plays with Water".

Question 9

Although I'm really trying hard to feel safe (as you told me), I am just not able to overcome my fear and even think whether I should consult a doctor. Actually I don't want to get into the circle of Western medicine, especially because it really makes me feel even worse if there is a problem.

— Judith, Austria


You are right in not wanting to get into the prolonged circle of Western medicine, which does not actually cure an illness but only manages it by treating its symptoms.

But the most important point is you are not even sick yet. You only think you may be sick. This feeling is not uncommon among some people. So, as you are not even sick, why go to the trouble of seeing a doctor. Come to a decision only if you are sick.

Question 10

My opinion was and still is, that I want to overcome any problem (even not necessarily knowing the exact diagnosis) with a strong jingshen (spirit and mind), qigong and kungfu in all respects.


Practising genuine chi kung and kungfu is the best way to do that. There are different ways to look at things, and to name these things. For example, some people call martial art "wushu", some "kungfu" and others "quanfa"; and different people look at these terms differently.

As you know well, the Chinese way of looking at illness and health is different from that of the West. The West attempts to pinpoint causes and gives specific names to illness, such as skin cancer and anxiety. The Chinese look at illness holistically and name it disrupted energy flow.

From the Western perspective, you have to find out what causes skin cancer, anxiety or any other forms of illness, and then prescribe treatment to remove the cause. If Western doctors cannot find the cause, they treat the symptoms.

From the Chinese perspective, the approach is holistic. Chi kung practitioners do not need to know the cause of the illness, or whether it is called skin cancer, anxiety or other names. As illness is caused by disrupted energy flow, all they need to do is to restore harmonious energy flow. And the main function of chi kung -- genuine chi kung -- is to restore harmonious energy flow.

There is also another crucial difference between Western medicine and chi kung. If the diagnosis is wrong, or if the person is not sick although he thinks he is sick, medical treatment if prolonged can bring serious side effects. And if diagnosis is wrong, it is likely that medication will be prolonged.

In chi kung, wrong diagnosis is irrelevant because there is no need for diagnosis! And it does not matter much whether the person is really sick or merely thinks he is sick. The more he practises chi kung -- irrespective of whether he has skin cancer, anxiety, illness called by other names, or no illness at all -- the more benefits he will get. So long as he practises properly, there is no side effect. If he learns from a master and practises for some time under the master's supervision, he will practise properly. Practising kungfu, which incorporates chi kung, will give you a strong "jingshen" (body and mind).

Question 11

Now I fear that my way of practising, e.g. qigong, might be on a low level, too low to overcome what I need to overcome! And then I'm not sure if skin cancer could be treated or looked at the same way as others.


The chi kung you learned from me in the chi kung classes is of a high level. The chi kung you learned from me at the intensive kungfu course is of a very high level, much higher than that in the chi kung classes.

What you can do and have attained, is what I took more than 10 years to learn and attain. I was a lucky and fast student. What I learned and attained in 10 years is what most chi kung and kungfu practitioners in the world today have not learnt or attained in 30 years!

Let us take some specific examples to justify my claim. From the few chi kung classes from me, you now can tape energy from the cosmos, generate an internal energy flow, channel vital energy to wherever you wishes in your body, clear energy blockage and flush out toxic waste, and massage internal organs. How many people who practise chi kung -- using the term as it is commonly used today -- can do these, or even hope to do these in 30 years.

Let us now take some examples from the intensive kungfu course. You can manage your energy so well that you can continuously perform 3 kungfu sets elegantly, fast and with force, yet without being tired or panting for breath. You can build a ball of energy at your dan tian and feel internal force surging from inside you. Despite the warm, humid weather in Malaysia and you coming from a cold country, you could train non-stop for two hours without being exhausted and without drinking a drop of water, yet the training was demanding force development and combat application that made you literally drenched with sweat.

How many kungfu practitioners today -- again using the term "kungfu" as it is commonly used -- can do all these? Some would be panting for breath after performing just one kungfu set and pouring water into their throat, and many would still be chasing after the term "internal force" after 30 years without knowing what it means. You achieved these abilities within one week of the intensive kungfu course because of very high level chi kung.

With such high level chi kung, so long as you continue your training regularly, attaining harmonious energy flow is comparatively child-play. If your energy flow was not harmonious and powerful, you could not do what you did at the intensive kungfu course. Do you, for example, think it is possible for someone suffering from cancer or any serious disease, spar continuously and vigorously for an hour, yet feel fresh and energized after the sparring?

So, you need not have any fear. Your chi kung is of a very high level. Even if you were to practise at half the level you are doing now, and even if we presume you had cancer (which is not true), your kungfu practice (which incorporates high level chi kung) will overcome cancer and whatever forms of illness you might have.

Chi kung does not look at cancer, anxiety or any forms of illness individually. Indeed chi kung does not look at illness; it looks at health. Technically speaking, chi kung does not seek to overcome illness, but it seeks to provide radiant health. Superficially, overcoming illness and providing health may appear the same, but actually they are quite different. In chi kung we do not worry about the individual labels for various symptoms of illness; what we want and get is good health. Good health is a pre-requisite for good Shaolin Kungfu.

Question 12

Dear Shifu, please don't interpret these doubts as not trusting you -- exactly the other way round -- because I trust you so much and hope to be able to gain physical as well as mental health, I consult you instead of others! I'm really confused and actually still not knowing how to carry on.


The high level chi kung you are practising is an ideal answer to all your problems. Chi kung does not only work on the physical, but more importantly on the energetic and the spiritual, i.e. not only on "jing" but also on "qi" and "shen".

Many other students also had similar problems, and when they devote themselves to Shaolin Kungfu training, they not only overcome the problems, they become different persons energetically and spiritually. Not only they are fit and healthy, they radiate vitality and have inner joy.

The following is a simple but very effective technique or "ritual" to start you on your way to good health, vitality and inner joy. Every morning after washing, look at the open sky. Relax totally and smile from your heart. Perform "Lifting the Sky" a few times, letting wonderful cosmic energy flow into you, and feel yourself revitalized. Then feel how blessed you are to have the golden opportunity to practise the Shaolin arts.

As a student of Chinese medicine you know very well that all effective treatment starts from the heart. As a student of kungfu you know that the highest kungfu operates from the heart. This simple, effective "ritual" gets you to start and operate from your heart.



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