April 2001 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I wrote previously that I had been practising Zhan Zhuang and Dan Tien breathing. You advised against this and warned against possible injury. You were quite correct, Sifu. Shortly after first writing to you, I began to develop a “blocked” feeling in my abdomen, combined with restlessness, and waking in the middle of the night feeling absolutely full of energy, but not in a positive useful way.
— Kevin, Finland
Both zhang zhuang and dan tian breathing are advanced chi kung methods although they look simple. Your blocked feeling was due to energy developed from your training but locked in your abdomen. As the abdomen is linked with the whole range of emotions connected with anxiety, you felt restless without any apparent reason. But the reason is obvious to a chi kung master — blocked energy flow at the stomach and spleen systems.
Why did you develop adverse effects? There were a few possibilities. The most likely reason was that you tensed your abdominal muscles. You would have read that being relaxed was very important in chi kung training, and you would have consciously tried to relax. But without personal supervision you might not know that you were actually tensed although you thought you were relaxed.
I want to apologise to you Sifu for thinking that from reading a book I could be somehow cleverer than you. I did not intend to disrespect your years of training and experience, or the art and discipline that is Chi kung. I discontinued training and the symptoms went away after 2-3 days. I hope to learn my lesson from this, that it is better to have a master, and that apparently simple methods are not as simple as they seem, and even wrong training in simple methods can do damage.
Your report here could have helped many people, even without their conscious knowing. Most people would have read that it is essential to be relaxed when practising chi kung. Some would have been warned not to attempt advanced chi kung exercises without proper supervision.
Yet, usually without conscious disrespect to the masters, they ignore the masters' advice. They think they can be relaxed when they actually can't. They think the exercises can be easily performed when they are actually difficult without personal guidance. Some think the masters are selfish, trying to keep the advanced arts to themselves, when the masters are actually being responsible and ethical.
Indeed exercises which look simple are actually most difficult. For example, zhang chuang and dan tian breathing look simple. You just remain still at a chosen position, or you just breathe into and out from your dan tian. What uninitiated students and bogus masters don't realize is that the form aspect of the exercise is reduced to the minimum so that the practitioner can totally focus on energy and mind.
If he makes a mistake, it is not easy to be detected, and even just a mistake in the energy or mind dimension, if carried on for some time, can lead to serious consequences. Usually a self-taught student makes not just one mistake, but many. If he realizes early, as you did, the adverse effect might not be serious. But if he stubbornly persists, he would be heading for trouble, yet he or his Western doctors would not know what the trouble is.
How long should I wait before beginning again? I do not want to discontinue Chi Kung altogether. Do you think it would be safe to stand in a relaxed way and just breathe normally (spontaneous breathing), or if I study Ba Duan Jin and practise the moving forms?
If you wait a month or two and do not feel the previous adverse effects, it is safe to begin again. Yes, standing upright and in a relaxed manner just breathing normally, is an excellent way in your case to practise chi kung. Ensure that you are upright, relaxed and breathing normally. For your chi kung training, if you practise only this daily for six months, you and your friends will be surprised at the results. Your friends will see how fresh you look. You yourself will feel peaceful and full of vitality.
Why does so simple looking an exercise produce remarkable results? Like zhang zhuang and dan tian breathing, but in different ways and at a much lower level, the exercise enables you to reduce your form aspect to the minimum so as to focus, without your conscious interference, on your energy and mind.
You can also get fairly good results from Ba Duan Jin, if you practise it as chi kung and not as gentle physical exercise. There is a thin but crucial line of difference between gentle physical exercise, and chi kung at the form level. Most people cannot tell the difference, and for the time being you need not worry about it. When you succeed in practising chi kung, you would know the difference intuitively, though you may not explain it intellectually.
Practise Ba Duan Jin as chi kung as follows. Do not think of anything and do not worry about your breathing. Just perform the movements in a relaxed manner.
Isn't the instruction clear and simple? Yet, more than 70% of those who practise the exercise may not follow the instruction correctly. Many will think of various things, and some may force their breathing.
Amongst those who follow the instruction correctly, more than 70% will perform it as gentle physical exercise. There are many reasons. One main reason is that they have pre-conceived ideas which will influence them negatively. But you as well as those who have followed my question- answer series regularly are likely to perform it as chi kung.
You advised me previously that for increased flexibility during sparring and other benefits, standing Chi Kung was probably not a good choice. To be honest, I am a little scared at continuing after my experience. My intuition tells me I should learn from the mistake and continue and thereby grow. They call this “sisu” in Finnish. It means inner spirit. I guess it is similar to fighting spirit.
I cannot remember the occasion for the advice. My advice is geared to the situation in question, which means that the same advice may not apply to a different situation. When I said standing chi kung, I was probably referring to types of standing chi kung like zhang zhuang and dan tian breathing. Generally these types of chi kung consolidate your energy and make you solid and powerful, and therefore not a good choice if your purpose is flexibility.
However, standing in a relaxed manner and breathing normally, which is a standing type of chi kung called “wuji zhuang”, is good for flexibility as it enables your chi to flow smoothly.
If your objective is flexibility, a good choice is Ba Duan Jin, which is also standing chi kung. But while wuji zhuang, zhang zhuang and dan tian breathing are standing stationary chi kung, Ba Duan Jin is standing mobile chi kung. And while zhang zhuang is “hard”, wuji zhuang, dan tian breathing and Ba Duan Jin are “soft”. One must also note that the concepts of “hard” and “soft” here are different from what most Westerners conceptualize what hard and soft are.
I have always wanted to learn Kung Fu, having previously learnt Kick boxing, but to no true satisfaction as that I have found in Kung Fu.
— Hirthaeprit, UK
In my opinion, Kungfu is much better than Kickboxing, especially for a young woman. As a woman is generally not as physically strong as or has less endurance than a man, and since physical strength and endurance are crucial factors in Kickboxing, you would have a big innate disadvantage to start with in Kickboxing.
If you train hard to overcome these physical weaknesses so that you are equal to men in physical strength and endurance, not only you have to spend much more time than men do, but also the training may make you rough and masculine — qualities not suitable for women.
But in Kungfu — if you have the opportunity to learn real traditional Kungfu — you can not only overcome these physical disadvantages but also make good use of qualities where women are better than men, like agility and fluidity of movement. Moreover, as internal force training in kungfu does not depend on physical strength and endurance, you would not have any disadvantage.
I remember very clearly my master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, once asked me, “How would a gentle woman fight with a fierce and powerful Siamese kickboxer? How would she block his sweeping kicks, for example?”
These were rhetoric questions. He did not wait for my answers: he answered them for me. “A Siamese Kickboxer, though slender, is very powerful,” my sifu explained. “A woman normally would be unable to block his attacks using her physical strength. If she blocks a sweeping kick, for example, she would have her arm fractured.”
“So how must she block?” I asked. “She doesn't have to block,”, my sifu answered. “She could effectively counter a powerful kick with little strength like this,” he then showed me a pattern which is found in a Shaolin kungfu set called “Seven Stars” which he was then teaching me.
That pattern involves going down into a Seven-Star Stance with a palm deflecting a powerful attack in a curving movement, then jumping up with a kick using the toes to the opponent's groins. “Practise this pattern for some time,” my sifu said. That “some time” took me about three months.
I understand that this style of Kung Fu that I am learning is essentially a Western style. I would be most grateful if you could give me your views on this style of Kung Fu, in comparison to the others you know of.
I think this style of kungfu is like karate, though it still retains some kungfu features and does not have the rough and tough characteristics karate has. Nevertheless, its force training and techniques are “hard”.
Students of this style, for example, spend much time on hard conditioning like punching a sandbag and striking a wooden pole. They would probably block a sweeping kick head on, rather than deflecting it away with apparently little effort. It is therefore not a suitable style for women.
Do you feel that modern day Kung Fu is loosing the effectiveness of combat, and there are less convincing disciples of the art due to different priorities facing them in Western lifestyle?
It is not just in the West but all over the world, including in China, that kungfu is loosing its combat effectiveness. Indeed, the modern trend in demonstrative kungfu forms, called wushu, is fast reducing kungfu from a highly effective martial art to spectacular acrobatics.
Modern life style, which is a main result of Westernization, contributes to the decline. When people''s lives have become more comfortable due to modern technology, which is of course a welcoming thing, they are inevitably less ready for strenuous training.
To a medieval farmer used to working the whole day in his fields, practising kungfu for three hours was easy. But to a modern youth used to fast cars and dscoteques, practising kungfu for an hour is a sacrifice.
Perhaps more detrimental to kungfu training than physical factors is the mental attitude brought about by modernization. The present information age has made people today so knowledgeable without any precedence in the past. A kungfu student today may know more about kungfu and chi kung than a master in the past!
Paradoxically his knowledge makes him less rather than more effective in kungfu combat. He reads for more information, rather than practises for better skills. He seeks to find out, for example, why a deflecting defence is more effective than a direct block in meeting a powerful attack, how many different deflecting techniques there are and who invented them, rather than practising just one technique so well that he can skilfully defend against any powerful attack. The onus of kungfu efficiency is on skills and not on knowledge.
Moreover, knowledge has made some students arrogant. Many students, often without conscious disrespect, actually think they are smarter than their teachers. When a master advices that they should learn from living teachers, many think they can learn better and faster from videos. When a master advises that they should practise a particular technique for three months, they think they can learn more advanced techniques after three weeks.
I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 1999 before the Chi Kung course in Malaysia with you. Crohn's disease is an auto-immune disease which means that my body attacks my intestine. When I get an attack, ulceration and swelling occur internally and I have abdominal pain, spasms and diarrhoea. The doctors do not know where the disease comes from or what it is exactly and they say that there is no cure for it.
— Michael, UK
In chi kung we also do not know what cause Crohn's disease, but the interesting thing is that we do not need to know. In chi kung philosophy, there is no such a thing as an incurable disease. Every disease can be cured, which unfortunately does not necessarily means every patient can be cured.
There is only one illness and it is called yin-yang disharmony, although there may be countless symptoms, and Crohn's disease is the label conventional doctors give to a particular set of symptoms. What we need to do is to restore yin-yang harmony, and chi kung is an excellent way to do so. In Western language, yin-yang harmony means your body is able to adjust to constantly changing environment.
It means that when virus and bacteria attack your body, it by nature will overcome the virus and bacteria. If there is a sore or ulcer in your stomach, your body by nature will be able to repair it. If your body bleeds unnecessarily, your body will stop it. If you need some fluid to clear away dead cells, like the germs which caused Crohn's disease and which were killed by your body defence as the result of chi kung training, your body may bleed to clear away the dead cells. If your body needs new blood to replenish the lost blood, your body will produce it.
This may sound incredible to the uninitiated, but it has been like this for everyone since humans first appeared, and it is happening to everyone all the time, irrespective of whether he knows chi kung or not. Then, why do some people have illness? This is because their yin-yang harmony has been temporarily disrupted. There are countless intermediate factors that can cause this disruption. But in chi kung we do not worry about the intermediate factors: we go to the root cause, i.e. we restore yin-yang harmony.
How do we restore yin-yang harmony? By restoring harmonious energy flow, which is a very concise way to say restoring the natural functions of all your body systems, organs, glands, etc. The chief function of chi kung is to ensure harmonious energy flow. Once all your body systems, etc function normally, including your stomach being able to overcome harmful virus and bacteria, and to stop unnecessarily bleeding, you will be healthy as a matter of course.
This philosophy is actually very simple, but those used to a different philosophy may find it hard to make a philosophical shift. If you are used to a philosophy which dictates that you have to find out why your body attacks your intestine, or where bleeding occurs, and if you cannot find out the why and the where, you would have to say there is no cure for Crohn's disease.
Now you are faced with a different philosophy which says that your body attacking your intestine and your unknown bleeding are just symptoms that your body is not functioning normally. Once you restore the normal functioning of your body, it will not attack your intestines and you will not bleed unnecessarily. According to this philosophy you need not know why or where your body did not function normally, as long as you are able to restore its natural functioning.
I haemorrhaged from the large intestine with large lumps of dark red blood. The doctors looked inside the large intestine with a telescope to try and find the source of the bleeding. They don't really know the exact reason for the bleeding but said that the intestine must have become irritated due to the disease near a vein or nerve. They put me on steroids for a few weeks to bring the swelling down, though the bleeding seemed to have stopped before they gave me the steroid.
The dark red blood is known in Chinese medical philosophy as “bad blood”, which contains dead germs and other substances harmful to your body, and which you body wishes to clear away. This is your body performing its natural function, which you lost temporarily but which you restored as a result of your conscientious chi kung training. Once the “bad blood” is discarded, the bleeding will stop.
The swelling is a symptom of blocked blood flow due to the “bad blood”. A principal Chinese medical tenet says as follows: “injury to blood results in swelling, injury to energy results in pain.” When your blood flow and energy flow become normal, both the swelling and the pain will disappear. My personal opinion is that using a powerful drug with harmful side-effects, like steriod, to relieve a symptom without really knowing the root cause is unwise.
I have been doing the visualisation at 7 am and 9 pm London time as you told me to. When I do the visualisation sometimes I can achieve it very well and see it getting better, but other times my mind takes over and I see it getting worse. I try to fight it but sometimes there is a battle. Why does this happen and what shall I do to train my mind to prevent this from happening?
For the time being you should not worry about academic questions like why there is a battle between tranquillity and anxiety, or what constitute good visualization. What you need to do is to follow my instructions as best as you comfortably can.
Briefly the instructions are as follows. Lie comfortable in bed and relax. Close your eyes gently and breathe naturally. Then gently visualize good cosmic energy from heaven flowing into your head and shoulders, through your body and out of your fingers and feet. As the cosmic energy flows through you, it clears away whatever is harmful, and then nourishes and revitalizes you.
The instructions, as in all Shaolin teachings, are simple direct and effective. Simple — you need not worry about whatever is not given in the instructions. For example, it is not mentioned that you should fight it when your visualization becomes bad. So just leave it aside.
You just do what the instructions ask. You are asked to relax, so just relax. You don't have to think of how to relax or why you must relax. You are asked to visualize gently, so visualize gently. Never, never, never force your visualization, or think of why your visualization isn't good enough.
Direct — the exercise is geared towards some objectives directly. In this case, the objectives are cleansing and revitalizing. You go straight to the point. You don't even have to warm up, or put on special clothing, or think of what to do next.
Effective — you enjoy the effects immediately. You don't have to wait for six years or even six days to feel the effects. Immediately, or even during, the exercise you feel cleansed and revitalized.
This exercise is effective for you because you have been initiated, you have attended my intensive chi kung course. Even if you were to make some mistakes, it is still very safe.
But for others it may not be effective. It would be harmful if they perform it incorrectly, and if they are not initiated, that is likely. For example, they may be unable to relax in the first place, and if they visualize forcefully in a tensed manner they would harm themselves.
I have been training the Chi Kung that you thought us in Malaysia (“Lifting the Sky”, “Carrying the Moon” and “Pushing Mountain”) for about 9 months now for 15 minute sessions like you said, and have done some sitting meditation to try and increase my single point focus to control my mind. What do you recommend I do, should I carry on with these exercises though I am very weak now? Doctors said it would take 5 - 8 weeks to get my strength back.
Do the visualization above for about a week, and you will find you will get your strength back. Then resume your chi kung exercises as usual. You may, if you like, still perform the visualization once a while. It is not necessary at present to do sitting meditation. The chi kung exercises themselves will increase your focus and mind control, and the effects come naturally — you may not be immediately conscious of them.
Your practice has been producing good results. As I mentioned over the phone, the bleeding is your body clearing away “bad blood”. It is an effective way to clear away the rubbish that has been in your stomach for years.
I am quite sure that after a few months, when you go to the hospital for a medical check-up, the doctors will be very surprised that you are free from Crohn's disease. This has happened to many of my students who suffered from so-called incurable diseases.
I would like to send you a token of my appreciation for the chi transmission. Could you please let me know your address so that I could send it to?
It is a kind gesture on your part, but the payment is not necessary. My chi only acted as a catalyst, much of the recovery was done by you yourself. My best reward will be when you tell me you are free from Crohn's disease. I am sure that will soon happen.
I just returned from Ireland. Joan, a lovely woman who invited me to teach there, told me the best gift she received was that for the first time since many years she was completely free from pain — something her friends and colleagues could not believe! That was also my best reward.
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