January 2001 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Sifu, I believe that you are one of the wisest and most compassionate men alive today, and I place great value and worth on your thoughts and opinions. I have been married for almost one year now and my wife and I have just had our first child, a boy. What advice can you give me to be a good husband and father?
— Kevin, USA
Congratulations for being a husband and father, and thank you for your kind words.
Being a husband and father is one of the most wonderful things that can happen to a man. So treasure your blessing. With the blessing comes responsibility. The most basic responsibility of a good husband and father is to provide for your family to the best of your ability. Provisions involve not just physical wants and comfort, like decent food and housing, but more importantly spiritual needs, like loving care and spending time with them rewardingly.
Providing for their spiritual needs does not need money, but it needs time and effort. If one really treasures his wife and child, he can readily find the time and effort, irrespective of how busy he may imagine himself to be or even really is.
If you treat your wife not as someone who happens to marry you, but someone who is going to spend the best part of her life for your welfare, which is actually the case, and treat your son not just as an incidental outcome of some pleasure, but as a living manifestation of your love and joy, which is also actually the case, you will find spending time with them not a responsibility but a special privilege.
Marriage is sacred. Personally I believe a man should have one and only one wife. You have chosen your wife. So you just have to make sure your marriage can only be successful. You have no other choice, and there is no looking back. Be generous in your attitude. Assume the position that you, and not your wife, are the one to take the initiative to ensure a successful, happy marriage. When you have set the right initiative, your wife will naturally respond.
I also wish to raise my son in the spirit of Shaolin, in a Zen environment. How should I go about this? At what age do I introduce Shaolin and Zen principles to him? And what age can he begin to practice Shaolin Kung Fu and Chi Kung?
Yours is a good choice, one of the best a father can do for his son. There are many ways to realize your intention. In the past, the ideal way was to send him to the Shaolin Monastery as a lay disciple, but this is not applicable today because traditional Shaolin arts are no longer taught there.
An excellent alternative is to send your son to a real Shaolin master. Another alternative is to train under a real Shaolin master yourself, and later teach your son the way the master taught you.
These ways, while possible, are not easy. In the past to be accepted into the Shaolin Monastery was extremely difficult. Today to find a real Shaolin master willing to teach you or your son is equally difficult.
In theory you can introduce Shaolin and Zen principles to your son, and he can begin practising Shaolin Kungfu and Chi Kung at any age. For example, when your son is a baby you can frequently recite Shaolin principles to him, letting his subconscious mind absorb the teaching.
And you can soak him in medicated water and then methodically strike him so that he will grow up with “copper skin and iron bones”, like what the female Shaolin master Miew Chooi Fa did to her famous son Fong Sai Yoke.
But in practice, it is advisable to let your son grow to about twelve years old before you let him practise Shaolin Kungfu and Chi Kung, and about twenty five before you formally introduce him to Shaolin and Zen principles. But informally you can let him begin earlier — as soon as he can run or can comprehend intelligently. For example you can let him perform in a fun-ful way “Lifting the Sky”, and impress upon him that if he wants any worthy result he has to put in time and effort.
My wife also would like to lose some weight that she gained during the pregnancy. Can she practice Drawing the Moon, Lifting the Sky, Separating Water, and Circular Chi Flow? She is breastfeeding. Will these exercises affect that at all?
“Drawing the Moon” is an excellent exercise for loosing excess weight, especially when the excess is around the waist.
After giving birth to our first child, my wife, who was slender before, took the shape of a barrel, the result of having a lot of nourishing food during confinement. She performed “Drawing the Moon” every morning and night, and regained her slender figure within six months.
After about 30 years of happy marriage and having given me 5 lovely children, she actually has a more attractive figure now than when I first met her. She does not do any aerobics, go on diet or follow any of the many slimming programmes on the market; she only practises the same three basic chi kung exercises I have been teaching for years to beginning students — “Lifting the Sky”, “Pushing Mountains” and “Carrying the Moon”. Besides having an attractive figure, my wife also has sparkling eyes and rosy complexion.
If your wife practises “Lifting the Sky”, “Separating Water”, and Circular Chi Flow correctly, these exercises will enhance her breast-feeding function as well as make her fit and healthy.
After a few days of performing Golden Bridge, I inevitably begin to lose strength in my legs. Is this normal? From a western point of view, this is a sign of overtraining.
— Alexis, Canada
If you have practised Golden Bridge correctly for a few days, you would feel weak in your legs. In kungfu jargon, this is “draining away old strength” so that new strength can be developed. This is a normal development of training.
But if you have practised wrongly, even though you may not have overtrained, you would also feel weak in your legs. Basing on your description alone, one cannot tell whether your loss of strength is due to normal training or wrong training. Nevertheless, a useful guideline is that if yours is normal development, you would feel fresh and energized though your legs may feel weak, but if it is wrong training, you would feel miserable, often with pain in your chest.
Is there a curve of development?
Yes, and the developmental curve in kungfu training is similar to that in other types of training or learning. First there appear to be no progress. Then progress appears and soon speeds up. Often there may be “plateaus” in the developmental process, and then a sudden steep uprise after a plateau.
You have written of cleansing away weakness. Is my experience a manifestation of this principle?
This depends on whether you have been training correctly or wrongly, and only a master observing you can tell. Here is one of many examples why a learning from master is necessary not only for good results but also to avoid harmful effects.
It is not just cleansing weakness, but also cleansing illness and injury. The difference is one of degree, but noting the difference is useful in understanding and overcoming some problems.
Someone who has no illness may feel weak in his legs after training for a few days, and then the weakness will disappear as he continues his training. This is cleansing of weakness.
Suppose a student has rheumatism in his leg. After practising Golden Bridge for some time, the pain disappears. But as he continues his training, the pain returns. This disappearing and re- appearing of pain may repeat a few times. Here it is cleansing of illness.
Now another student has an injury in his leg, such as a sprained muscle or a slightly displaced joint-bone. The injury is not serious enough to warrant a surgical operation, but at the present stage of western medical treatment, there is not much a doctor could do. After a few days of practising Golden Bridge, depending on various factors, his pain may first become more severe and then gradually disappears, in which case it is cleansing of injury. Or it may become worse and worse.
In all the three examples above, it is presumed that the students have trained Golden Bridge correctly. But why is it possible for the injured student to have adverse effects even though he trains correctly? It is because a powerful exercise like Golden Bridge is not suitable for him.
Someone who learns from a book or an incompetent instructor will be unable to understand such subtleties. Knowing this, it now becomes meaningful why advanced arts must be learnt from masters. A master usually would prescribe other exercises to enable their students to overcome their illness or injury first, before starting powerful force training like Golden Bridge.
I always stop my practices at this point, as I do not wish to harm myself unduly. I would be immensely grateful for any advice upon this matter.
This is a wise move. A good principle to follow is that whenever you are unsure, it is always better to under-train than over-train. Your progress will be slower, and sometimes you may not progress at all, but you will nor risk harming yourself. This understandably is your alternative-cost for not learning from a master.
Will I eventually become stronger? Exactly how far one ought to go during practice of the Golden Bridge" Burning and shaking of the legs accompany any prolonged effort on my part. Ought I take things more slowly? I have read (apparently) opposing viewpoints on this matter.
You will certainly become stronger if you train correctly. But if you train wrongly, you may hurt yourself. You need a competent instructor to observe you to determine whether your training is correct or wrong.
It is normal for your legs to shake and sometime to feel a burning sensation if you have trained correctly. Your legs will also shake and burn if you have practised wrongly. The shaking and burning sensation are quite different, but words are too limited to describe the difference, and even if a description is given, without direct experience you will not understand what it means. Just like both a good orange and a bad orange taste sour, but although the sourness is different one who has not eaten the oranges will not know the difference.
As mentioned earlier, under-training or taking things more slowly is always a good choice if you are uncertain. Presuming the views given are correct, they can be opposing when they are meant for different situations. For example, in your case I would ask you to slow down your training, but to a student learning from me personally, I would ask him to persevere so as to attain a break- through.
You stated in Question 1 of your JULY 2000 ( PART 1) question-answer series that you talked to the Immortal Tiet Kwai Li while you were training with your sifu. This I DO NOT doubt. But how did you know it was the Immortal talking to you and not your sifu?
— David, USA
I knew I was talking with the Immortal Tiet Kwai Li, who spoke through my sifu, and not with my sifu himself because of the following reasons. The voice and the facial expression were quite different from those of my sifu. A highly developed person, like my sifu, might read the questions from my mind, but the accuracy and preciseness of the answers given were not what mortals would have.
Mine was not the only case. There were countless cases of people, many of them were strangers, who sought the Immortal's advice, and the Immortal spoke through my sifu as a medium. The Immortal's replies were accurate and advice very helpful.
I ask this because I study under a sifu who travels to USA a few times a year. When he was away, I accumulated questions about our studies. Almost without fail, my questions were answered by my sifu without asking him first! How could this be? I didn't discuss my questions with anyone else. Please, I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this matter.
In your case your sifu probably read your mind. In my case the Immortal's consciousness entered my sifu's body and spoke through him. They were quite different. One was mind reading, the other was mediumship.
Thought are reality, and they exist as vibrations. A master with a highly trained mind can pick up these vibrations.
Certain rituals are necessary for mediumship. The medium has to be clean physically and spiritually. Joss sticks are offered to the invited deity, and appropriate incantations are chanted. Just before the deity arrives, the medium shakes vigorous, then suddenly becomes quiet as the deity speaks in his characteristic voice.
Many people seek help from Taoist gods or immortals to overcome so-called incurable illness or to exorcise evil spirits. A standard way is for the gods or immortals to write some magical formulae on yellow paper, which is burnt and the ashes dissolved in water, and the devotees drink the blessed water or sprinkle the water at appropriate places.
Seeking help from gods and immortals through mediums is a popular Taoist practice. Like many other arcane arts, there are also many charlatans, and it is not easy for the uninitiated to differentiate the genuine from the bogus. In my youth, due to my ignorance and arrogance, I had low regard for such practices, thinking them superstitious. As my experience and knowledge widens, I realize that communicating with a god or immortal in such a way is a very rare and rewarding privilege.
I am studying gigong and Tai Chi Chuan with a superb teacher. I am still within the first year of my studies, but already I have begun to experience chi sensations like weighty hands, magnetic feelings, and such.
— Reuben, USA
Having weighty hands and magnetic feelings are some of the signs that you have worked on energy. It means that you have been practising chi kung, and not just some gentle exercise. Other common signs manifesting the working of chi or energy are warmth, needle prickling effects, feeling of expansion, seeing bright beautiful colours, sensations of electricity, feeling of sourness, and dull pain.
It is helpful to note that while these signs show you have worked on energy, they are not the objectives of your training. In other words, while these signs show you have been practising correctly, they are not the reasons for your practice. Hence, if after training for a year, for example, a student sees beautiful colours or feels expanding, but he is still sick or weak, then he has wasted his time.
However, I have what psychiatrists have determined as bipolar disorder, and I have noticed that the day after class, often my moods are altered in disturbing ways, including surliness, anger and depression. I am wondering if this might be due to improper qigong practice, and if so, what exercises I might practice to improve my mood health, or whether it is more a factor of excluding exercises of a more spiritually cultivating nature from my general practice.
While it is evident you have worked on energy, it is difficult to tell from a written description whether your working on energy, or chi kung training, is proper or improper. Usually if you have trained chi kung correctly for a year, your mood problems would have disappeared. Chi kung is excellent for overcoming physical health problems; it is even more effective and faster for overcoming emotional health problems. Genuine Tai Chi Chuan is a complete system of chi kung.
Hence, it is probable you have trained improperly. But it is also possible that even if your training is proper, you may still have your emotional problems. This can be due to any of the following situations.
One, you have other more urgent health problems which might be life threatening but which you might not know. The good effects of your proper chi kung training goes to overcome these more urgent problems first.
Two, while the good effects of your chi kung training are eliminating the factors that cause your mood problems, your detrimental life style is at the same time adding new problem-causing factors. In other words, your bad life style negates your good chi kung effects.
Three, the type of chi kung you practise is not suitable for your needs. For example, if you practise zhang zhuang, which is a very powerful type of chi kung, the tremendous amount of energy accumulated may aggravate your emotional problem instead of overcoming it.
Four, your problem is deep-rooted and your chi kung may not be powerful enough to overcome it. Your teacher can be superb, but he is still limited by the art he teaches.
To those who are exposed only to external chi kung forms or Tai Chi dance — and they form the great majority of people who say they practise chi kung or Tai Chi — having weighty hands and magnetic feelings may be fantastic. But students who practise high level chi kung or genuine Tai Chi Chuan can have those effects within a week. If you take a few months to have those effects, it is unlikely what you practise is powerful.
Five, your problem is deep-rooted and your chi kung is powerful. You may still have alternate periods of peaceful feelings and disturbed emotions. This is because your chi kung effects are clearing away your emotional problem in layers. But if you have alternate periods of different negative emotions — and not alternative periods of peace and negative emotions — then it is likely you have practised improperly, or you have practised a wrong type of chi kung, or your chi kung is not powerful enough.
There are many, many chi kung exercises for overcoming your emotional problem, but the crucial point is not what exercises to practise but how to practise them. Even if you (theoretically) know some exercise excellent for your purpose, if you perform them incorrectly, not only you cannot overcome your problem, you may aggravate it. In your present situation you should exclude exercises of a “more spiritually cultivating nature”.
I would recommend that you attend my intensive chi kung course. (If you are interested, please contact my secretary.) I cannot guarantee you will definitely be cured, but I believe you should overcome your health problem within six months.