March 2001 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I have been reading 'The Art of Chi Kung', and have been practicing “Lifting the Sky” and “Carrying the Moon”, and I have already reaped tremendous benefits of health. My ultimate goal is to follow the path of enlightenment, and I meditate daily as well.
Although I have no formal Kung Fu training, I wish to strengthen and invigorate myself so I may fully commit to the way. I know this will take a long time to develop my internal force, but I look forward to the challenge, as every little advancement brings great pleasure, and the relaxing benefits that come with this confidence.
However, I wish to be cautious and not attempt the more difficult techniques without a proper master, both for reasons of time and safety. I also think it would be a lot of fun, and fun is (in my humble opinion) one of the most underrated aspects of any type of training.
— Greg, USA
You can take my intensive Shaolin Kungfu course if you like but I don't think at your present stage you will benefit much from it. This course is actually for instructors and advanced students who have had a few years of kungfu training.
If you are interested to learn Shaolin Kungfu from me, it will be better for you to learn some rudimental kungfu or wushu first from a local instructor, then come to me for refinement. Though you can afford the time and money, it is uneconomical to learn the rudiments from me when you can do so more conveniently at home.
Even if what you learn locally is only external kungfu forms or dance, you will at least have some experience of basic kungfu patterns and movements so that the time training with me can be more rewardingly used for internal force training and combat application.
I agree with you that fun is a very important aspect of any learning, but is much underrated. It is a matter of semantics, but I would prefer to use the term “subtle joys”.
Initially, practising kungfu is no “fun”; it is hard work and determination. I put the word “fun” within inverted commas because here it refers to a special, limited aspect of fun suggesting that the practice is not to be taken lightly or jokingly.
A kungfu student, for example, does not walk in leisurely, perform his movements half-heartedly, and leave when he wants. But if he seriously puts in time and effort, he will derive subtle joys which will encourage him to continue despite the discipline he may force himself into.
I am interested in applying my skills to skateboarding and surfing — my personal sport preferences — as I have already made great progress with only minimal Chi Kung and Zen training on my own. Eventually I would like to help other skateboarders and surfers pursue their craft with lessons from these Shaolin concepts. I truly believe these sports to be some of the most effective, modern day equivalents of Shaolin Kung Fu.
Shaolin Kungfu is vastly different from skateboarding and surfing. The philosophy, approaches, skills, techniques, purposes, scope and dimension are all different. To say that skateboarding and surfing are effective modern-day equivalents of Shaolin Kungfu is like saying some grains of sand is a diamond mine.
But of course if you are trained in Shaolin Kungfu, you would be able to skateboard and surf much better. As a result of genuine Shaolin Kungfu training, you would be able to do better anything you do, because the training concerns the development of your body, energy and mind.
It would be difficult for someone who has not undergone the training to really appreciate the real meaning of developing body, energy and mind. Almost any art, including some of the most brutal, would claim to develop body, energy and mind, when what it actually does is to wear the body down, deplete energy, and condition the practitioner's psyche in such a manner that he becomes dull or aggressive.
On the other hand, Shaolin Kungfu training purposely and directly develops the practitioner's jing, qi and shen, which are Chinese terms for physical body, energy and mind. As a result of such training the practitioner's body becomes strong and flexible, his energy full and smoothly flowing, and his mind fresh and focused. But of course he must train genuine Shaolin Kungfu, which is very rare today. Because of adulteration and wrong teaching, much of kungfu today is only physical and sometimes brutal.
I have read many of Sifu Wong's teachings, and I am impressed and respectful of his commitment to his students and the preservation of an ancient art. I think it would be best to learn basic techniques from Sifu Wong, and then practice them on my own for several years before I search out a local master. I know this is a life-long pursuit, and I am in no hurry to learn the more advanced and esoteric points of Kung Fu, only to begin in the right direction.
This is a wise attitude. The best for you for your present needs is an Intensive Chi Kung course. Almost all those who came to Malaysia for intensive courses expressed what a wonderful experience they had.
This course will not only give you good health and vitality, but will also enhance your skateboarding and surfing, and prepare you well for Shaolin Kungfu if you wish to pursue it later. Among many things, you will learn how to attain a one-pointed mind, tap cosmic energy and generate an internal energy flow.
I'm asking these questions on behalf of my teacher whose English is not so good. He would like to know if he could teach his students after taking your class. I thought I found somewhere in the Questions series that it would take 3 years training to do so, but he wants to be sure.
— Sendergard, Denmark
You are right. It takes at least three years training before one should think of becoming a teacher, especially teaching a high level chi kung like what is taught in my intensive courses. After taking the course, he would be competent to practise on his own, but not competent to teach others, even though he might have taught other types of chi kung. Being a good student and being a good teacher call for different skills and approaches.
Many chi kung teachers who attended my intensive chi kung course expressed amazement at what they learned, often saying they had never thought chi kung was like that. Some said they had wasted their many years practising and teaching gentle exercise thinking it was chi kung. I told them those years were not wasted, having learnt fundamental chi kung skills from my course, they could now translate gentle exercise into genuine chi kung.
Those who think they could teach chi kung to others immediately after learning it, generally mistake chi kung for gentle exercise. If one teaches physical exercise, he can read it from a book and then teach it to others because what is involved is external form. Indeed many physical education instructors do this.
But chi kung is different. What are involved are mind and energy, the external form serving as a vehicle. In physical exercise, when you move a hand, you move a hand. In chi kung, when you move a hand, you use this movement to manage mind and energy. Even if you have the skill to manage energy by moving your hand (the first skill), you still do not have the (second) skill to teach this (first skill) to others.
How many times a day should it be practiced, and should it be at specific times?
The standard way taught by many masters is twice a day, once in the morning, and the other at night. You need not practise at specific times, but it is not recommended to practise at noon.
The best two times are at sun rise and midnight, but any time before nine in the morning and after nine at night are good times.
How long does it take to do the form/positions?
It depends much on the type of chi kung. Most chi kung types require about an hour of practice. High level chi kung, like what is taught in my intensive course, requires only fifteen minutes. Similarly, depending on factors like the chi kung type, your level of skill and your purpose of practice, a particular chi kung exercise may be practised for an hour or ten minutes.
I now think what grade I am, really doesn't mean anything in the sense that while I know what the technique is called and its application, would I really know how to use it in a real situation? I came to this realisation recently after sparring, when I noticed that it was basically kicking and punching, and the techniques themselves “went out of the window”.
— Kevin, Finland
What you said is quite true. One may be a 5th dan black-belt, but if he cannot defend himself efficiently, his grade becomes meaningless.
However, the above statement — or any statement — is applicable for certain situations and at a certain level of interpretation. When the level or situations change, the meaning may change too.
The grading of the 5th dan black-belt above is meaningless because his grading system was not accurate or valid. In other words, the tests he had undergone did not correctly measure how well he could fight, or they measured other criteria such as his years of practice and the subject matter he (theoretically) knew, but not his fighting ability. Had the grading system been accurate and valid, he would be able to defend himself well.
I also wondered about the techniques as well. In Kyokushinkai, say striking with a hammer fist to the top of an opponent's head or collar bone. The hands first come up with the left elbow pointing forward and left fist to the right shoulder, the right hand is behind the right ear and the movement of this right fist goes over the top of the head striking down the centre line, while the left fist is simultaneously pulled back to the side.
In martial arts, techniques are usually learnt in progression. What you described is the first stage, where the movement is often performed slowly and in a relaxed manner. When a student can do this well, he progresses to the second stage, where the movement is performed with some speed and power but still maintaining the correct form.
Then he progresses to the third stage, where the movement is shortened. His left elbow, for example, needs not be raised at shoulder's level but is just pointing downward slantingly, his right fist is in front of the right ear instead of behind it, and the fist comes down from eye level instead of over the head.
If he practises Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan where internal force is an essential factor, he then progresses to the fourth stage. He does not need to lift his left hand for balance and momentum, and he can place his right striking hand just a few inches from target. If he uses internal force, it would be more suitable to use a palm instead of a fist to strike.
In Yushinikai, these movements are stripped down, which would be more applicable in a combat situation, because although the full technique should teach the exponent the proper way to move and to get force with the strike, it would take too long in a real situation. This is just an example of one of the techniques.
Here you go straight to the third stage, by-passing the first and second stages. The advantage is the student learns fast, but the disadvantage is he lacks foundation.
The first and second stages are not meant for combat situations; they are only preparation. Even when a student is at the third stage, when he can strike from short distance, he is not ready for combat yet; he has to progress to further stages and develop various skills.
Many students, especially in kungfu, remain at the first stage even though they may have practised for many years. As a result they do not know how to fight. Some of them jump straight from the first stage to free sparring, which is the last stage in combat training. As they have missed the many in-between stages which prepare them for effective combat, they often fight like children.
You have written that you were taught one technique at a time and were not taught another until you had mastered it. This makes perfect sense to me, and I was thinking that maybe I should begin again with the “basics” which form the ground work of good self-defense and combat application.
“Basics” means “foundation”; it does not mean “easy stuff”. Masters become what they are because they have spent a lot of time on basics. Without a strong and deep foundation, one cannot progress very far in any art.
You need not remain at the same basics that you learned at the start of your martial art training. When you have grounded yourself in the basics of the first level, you can progress to the basics of the second level, and so on.
For how long you need to train your basics depends on variables like the quality of your teacher's teaching and of your training, the kind of exercises involved, and your needs and aspirations. Generally, spending three months on them is a minimum guide. The first basics at the start are most important, and many masters continue training such basics throughout their martial art career.
What is the point of learning fancy strikes if you cannot punch properly with a good solid stance, or block a similar punch from an opponent?
Having a solid stance (also with agile footwork) is an essential basic. While punching properly and blocking similar punches may be basics in many martial arts, in Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan they are not. This does not mean that punching and blocking are not important in Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, but it means that they do not constitute the foundation upon which future development depends.
Indeed, in traditional Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan training, a student spends much time on basics like learning how to be relaxed and focused, developing good stances and agile footwork, and moving smoothly without being short of breath, long before he learns his first punch and block. Right from the start to very advanced levels in Baguaquan, a highly developed form of internal kungfu, exponents never punch nor block, yet they can be very formidable fighters. But in modernized kungfu, many exponents rush into free sparring even before learning how to punch and block properly.
There are no fancy patterns in genuine martial arts, whose business is serious combat. When a Shaolin exponent, for example, stands on one leg like a crane, twists his body, lifts one hand towards the sky and the other points slantingly to the ground, in a pose which would appear fanciful to the uninitiated, it is because that particular posture gives him the best advantages in some particular combat situations.
Do you think my sensei would be insulted if I asked to slow my training so that there was not such a rush for the next belt, or even if I spent more time reviewing the old techniques and applications?
This depends much on the teacher, and also on how you approach him. A mediocre instructor who is more interested in your fees than your progress would be pleased. A master would be insulted, although he might not feel it, because even without conscious disrespect you were telling him that you knew better how to teach.
Learning a lot is not mastering. A colleague of mine recently won a competition (full-contact) in Kyokshinkai using five “simple” techniques, i.e. punching, kicking to opponents thighs, thrust kicks, and rising and descending blocks.
In any art if one continues to learn a lot, he may be knowledge but he can never become a master. To master something — be it throwing an opponent to the ground or shooting a football into a goal — one must practise, practise and practise it so much and so thoroughly that he can use what he has mastered to achieve its purpose excellently.
The opponent may attempt to change his stance, break loose, strike back or make any other countless moves, yet he is thrown to the ground by the master. Had he attempted to learn more and more throwing techniques, and read up on balance and mechanics, internal force and flowing movement, he would continue to be a learner, and may be a scholar, but never a master.
A Muai Thai (Siamese Boxing) fighter is much feared by many martial artists. More than 95% of his combat movements fall within a range of ten basic techniques; more than 75% within a range of five most-used techniques — dodging, jabbing, elbow strikes, sweeping kicks and knee strikes.
On the other hand a typical wushu exponent learns hundreds of techniques, and often can perform them beautifully in solo demonstration. Yet he is usually a poor fighter, having difficulty even with brown-belts.
It wasn't fancy but it was effective. I realise that this was competition and not real life self defense, but I think that it approaches the real condition. Although I like Yushinikai, I think I prefer the harder physical training of Kyokushinkai as well as the techniques. Do you think that the hard training is counter productive to Chi Kung training?
Modern wushu patterns which are fanciful to watch, came from traditional kungfu patterns which were deadly effective for combat. Wushu patterns are fanciful because when the practitioners perform these patterns, what they have in mind is beautiful performance. They have no idea how the patterns can be used for fighting.
When genuine kungfu exponents (but not kungfu dancers) perform their patterns, what they have in mind is effective combat. They are not concerned whether their patterns are beautiful to watch, although they often are to the uninitiated.
Speaking generally and at a low level, hard physical training and techniques are counter-productive to chi kung. If you tense your muscles to lift weights, or grimace your face to execute a hard block, you interrupt your chi flow which not only renders your fighting less effective but is detrimental to your health in the long run.
However, if you know the method you can use hard physical training to enhance your chi kung. For example by holding stone-locks (which are old fashion dumb-bells) when performing “Hundred Punches”, you can increase your internal power. By directing your chi to a hard block, you learn to harness your chi flow.