August 2002 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Greetings from the U.S. I have just recently come across you book on Chi Kung. I did not know about such an art until I began pursuing study in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I am very grateful you have written books like that for people to gain better understanding.
— Dylan, USA
Thank you for your kind words. Two main reasons prompted me to write a series of chi kung and kungfu books. One, I found that many existing books written in English were shallow or, worse, misleading.
Douglas, my most senior disciple in Europe, gave a succinct observation. He found most Taijiquan books had pictures from cover to cover, illustrating Taijiquan forms and nothing else. A few had only text, but the text merely described the authors' learning experiences and opinions. He did not find any books giving an in-depth explanation of the history, philosophy and combat application of Taijiquan except mine.
The second reason was that these books were often literal translations of terms and jargons which Western readers were unlikely to understand. This was especially so in English books on Chinese medicine, and sometimes on chi kung. Take, for example, the following lines randomly quoted from an English book on Chnese medicine.
“Red tends to serve as white lining, but vermillion red does not incline to change into ochre; white wants to be like the feather of a goose and not like the colour of salt.”
I, myself, do not know what that author is saying.
If you are interested in Chinese medicine — or anyone interested in health — you should read my book, “The Complete Book of Chinese Medicine”. It gives a comprehensive yet in-depth explanation of all aspects of Chinese medicine in a language and imagery Western readers will find easy to understand and pleasant to read.
My books on chi kung, Shaolin Kungfu, Taijiquan and Zen were originally published by Element Books. Unfortunately Element Books went into liquidation and Random House, United Kingdom, has bought over the rights to publish these books.
Nevertheless, I have received a lot of complaints that the books published by Random House, are not available in the United States and Canada. I am quite surprised, and I don't know the reasons. I shall consult Random House on this. Perhaps you and others who wish to purchase these books would contact Random House too.
My latest books are published by Cosmos Internet, Malaysia. They have done a very good job. The titles are:
- The Master Answers
- Sukhavati: Going to Heaven as Taught by the Buddha
- The Complete Book of Chinese Medicine
- The Complete Book of Shaolin
To purchase these books, for those in the United States, Canada, Central and South America please e-mail CosmosNYC@hotmail.com, and for those in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia please e-mail CosmosUK@hotmail.com. For further information, please e-mail CosmosInternet@hotmail.com.
I was very interested in studying Tai Chi Chuan, but I have to ask how to practice it. You said it should be practiced as a martial art because that is what it is. Could you explain more about what you meant by that?
You should not just study Tai Chi Chuan, but practice it. When you study you read, observe and think about it. When you practice you go over and over again in action what you have learnt.
Yes, you should practice Tai Chi Chuan not just as a martial art but as an internal martial art, even though you may not want to fight. The term “Tai Chi Chuan” means word by word “Grand”, “Ultimate”, “Kungfu”.
Why should you practice Grand Ultimate Kungfu as an internal martial art if you do not want to fight? Simply because you will get the best benefits by practicing the art as it is. If you practice Tai Chi Chuan as Western Boxing, Taekwondo or dancing, you will get the benefits of Western Boxing, Taekwondo or dancing; you will never get the benefits of Tai Chi Chuan. This is only logical.
What are the benefits of Tai Chi Chuan? Briefly, the many benefits may be classified into three levels. At the first level, you have balance, elegance, good health and vitality. At the second level, you have courage, righteousness and combat efficiency. At the highest level, you have joy, inner peace and spiritual fulfillment.
Thus, even if you are not interested in combat efficiency, there are so many other benefits you can have. Would you be able to get these benefits if you do not practice Tai Chi Chuan as an internal martial art? Technically speaking you cannot practice Tai Chi Chuan if you do not practice it as a martial art, for then it would cease to be Tai Chi Chuan. For convenience I would call it Tai Chi Dance.
Practicing Tai Chi Dance will give you balance and elegance, but not the other benefits. Why? Simply because these other benefits are obtained from internal, martial training. There is nothing internal or martial in Tai Chi Dance.
I have also contacted a Tai Chi practitioner in Australia. He suggested that I took up a study in Kung-Fu because it was for people who were impatient and did not want to take the time to study/practice Tai Chi's complicated moves and philosophy!
It is only wise to consult an expert, not just anybody irrespective of whether he is in Australia or Alaska. Obviously the Tai Chi practitioner you contacted was not an expert. He was wrong in all the advice he gave you.
Kungfu is not for people who are impatient. Indeed, it needs a lot of patience and perseverance to practice kungfu. A friend once said that when one had the patience to practice kungfu, he would have the patience to do anything.
Moreover, your contact is confused between study and training. But even to study kungfu (i.e. read, observe and think about it) needs patience. For example, if you study a historical statement, like George Washington was the first President of the United States, or a scientific fact, like water is a compound of oxygen and hydrogen, you can readily understand it. If you don't, you can readily check it out from a teacher or a library.
But if you study kungfu a statement or fact like one can effectively defend himself against all kinds of kicks by applying the Tai Chi Chuan pattern called “Low Stance Single Whip”, or when a master executes a strike he generates internal force from his dan tian, you would probably need more time, and therefore more patience, understanding it. If you don't understand, you would need more patience seeking a teacher or suitable sources for explanation.
Tai Chi Chuan is kungfu, but Tai Chi Dance is not. What your contact meant by “Kung-Fu” was probably “Shaolin Kungfu”, or perhaps its external forms which for convenience I would call kungfu gymnastics.
It is not true, as your contact suggested, that the moves and philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan, or even of Tai Chi Dance, are complicated. They are clear and simple, and in the case of Tai Chi Chuan they are also very profound.
Take for an example the “peng” techniques in Tai Chi Chuan. It is simple; there are no extraneous movements. At a proper stance and with the turning of your waist, you simply move your arm to eye level in front, channeling chi to your fingers.
Yet, this simple movement can be so profound. You can do so many things with it. You can, for example, ward off a thrust attack, counter against an opponent's kick, neutralize an opponent's throw, release a grip on your arm, strike the opponent's neck, or throw an opponent to the ground. You can also generate an internal energy flow, focus your internal force, relieve a headache or back pain, overcome insomnia or depresion, expand your mind or have a glimpse of Tao.
Can you do all these things just with the “peng” technique? Of course, if you practice genuine Tai Chi Chuan, and have a generous master willing to teach you. But if you practice Tai Chi Dance, even from the best teachers, you would only attain balance and elegance.
Do you find that understanding the origin and philosophy behind an art makes it more effective to a practitioner?
Yes, not only you will be more effective you may enlarge your horizon beyond your imagination. On the other hand, it may make you certainly realize you have been wasting your time.
Many people may not believe in what I have said about the benefits of the “peng” technique above. They may think I am exaggerating beyond reasons, and the less sympathetic would say I was bullshitting.
But if they understand the origin and philosophy behind Tai Chi Chuan, they would first have second thoughts over their initial criticism, then may think what I have said is possible. If they have the rare opportunity to rain with a generous master, they may realize that what I have said is actually the start of some incredible greatness.
Tai Chi Chuan, originally called Wudang Kungfu, was initiated by the great Taoist master Zhang San Feng, one of the greatest men in Chinese history. The aim of Taoist masters in their dedicated pursue of Tai Chi Chuan was not for good health, not for combat — for they were already very healthy and efficient in fighting — but for attaining the highest spiritual fulfillment. By comparison, releasing a deadly lock or throwing an opponent to the ground was child-play; overcoming insomnia or depression was as irrelevant as a millionaire attempting to earn a few dollars.
What is more important in Tai Chi Chuan: form or application?
Application is more important. Form is the mean, application is the end; form is the method, application is the realization. Application is not just for combat, but for daily living.
Why do we practice Tai Chi Chuan? Some do so for health, some for self-defence, and others for recreation, while many may not have an answer because they have never asked such a question. The few who have the rare opportunity to practice genuine Tai Chi Chuan do so for holistic personal development.
Whatever the reasons, we must enjoy the practical benefits for which we dedicate time and effort for our practice. This is the application. Without these benefits — without the application — the form becomes meaningless.
What do you mean by studying Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art and how would someone do that?
I would advocate practicing, not studying. When you practice Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, the most basic thing is that you must be able to defend yourself decently using typical Tai Chi Chuan skills and techniques. More significantly, you should have good health, vitality, mental freshness and clarity, courage, confidence and spiritual joy. I wish to emphasize that the preceding sentence is made earnestly.
A person wishing to practice Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art must first of all decide whether he really wants to do it, or just be contented with Tai Chi Dance. He must realize that practicing Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art calls for much patience and determination.
Next he must find a competent teacher. Unless he is already competent in Tai Chi Chuan or some internal kungfu, it is improbable that he can learn from books or videos. Nevertheless, he should study good Tai Chi Chuan books to have some sound philosophical background.
Then he undertakes the main part of the journey, which is practice, practice and practice according to what his teacher asks him, not according to his own fancy. Periodically he should check his progress or otherwise with reference to the benefits I have listed above.
How could I differentiate between a good and a bad Tai Chi teacher? I have asked this of a master, and he told me just to watch how a teacher taught his class. I hope you could clarify this a little more.
I suppose you mean Tai Chi Chuan teachers, not Tai Chi Dance instructors. Watching how a teacher teaches his class is one way, but you must know what to watch. You should watch whether he teachers internal force and combat application, and whether his teaching is systematic and methodical.
More significantly, you should watch the results of his students. Do they get the kind of benefits genuine Tai Chi Chuan is reputed to give? If possible, talk to some of his students to find out what they think of their teacher. Whatever they say, you must take care not to show any disrespect to the teacher.
Also I hope to learn how chi kung can be used in treating patients.
You may study how chi kung can be used to treat patients from books or videos, but if you are thinking of actually using chi kung to treat patients, you have to satisfy at least the following two conditions.
- You must learn personally from a master.
- You must have a few years of practical experience under the supervision of a master.
It is unethical if you start treating patients after reading a book or after learning from someone who himself has not be properly trained to treat patients.
The philosophy behind how chi kung overcomes illness is quite simple. As life is a meaningful flow of energy, any interruption to energy flow will affect the quality of life, manifesting as illness. The remedy is to restore meaningful energy flow. This can be achieved by practicing chi kung or undergoing chi kung therapy.
There are countless methods a chi kung therapist can use to treat his patients. As early as CE 610 the great Chinese physician, Chao Yuan Fang, described in his masterpiece, “The Causes of Diseases”, about 400 chi kung exercises to overcome various diseases! But even if you know all these 400 exercises, you would not be able to treat patients, just as even if you have read all surgery text books, you would still not be able to operate on sick people.
I have learned that it is best to practice chi kung twice a day, and I would like to know what are the best/recommended times of day to practice?
If it is in the morning, should it be the first thing that I do when I get up, or should I wait until after breakfast? If so, how long should I wait until after eating?
— Rowan, USA
The two best times are at sunrise and at mid-night. Other good times are before nine o'clock in the morning, and after five in the evening. Noon is a bad time for practice.
You can practice before or after breakfast. The best is to practice the first thing after waking or washing up. For many types of chi kung, you need to wait half an hour or an hour before and after eating, but for high level chi kung the waiting period is not necessary.
In the exercise “Drawing the Moon”, how big exactly in centimeters or millimeters should the circle you have to draw with your big toes?
I have never measured the circle made during “Drawing the Moon”, so I cannot give you the exact measurement in centimeters or millimeters. But a good estimate is about one or one and a half feet in diameter.
You have to excuse me for using the British measuring system for that was what I was used to in school. Using a conversion table, the measurements work out to be between 30 centimeters or 300 millimeters, and 45 centimeters or 450 millimeters.
You need not have the circle exactly between 30 and 45 centimeters in diameter each time you make a turn. You will still have good result if the circles are 28.23 centimeters or 46.53 centimeters. But they should not be too small or too big, like 5.82 centimeters or 90.26 centimeters.
Another important point is that you must not make the circles too quickly. You should take at least 30 seconds to make a circle. It is alright if sometimes you take 29 seconds or 26.7 seconds, but it is not alright if you draw the circle too quickly, like 6 seconds or 2.5 seconds.
Is there a particular order you recommend doing the exercises? Should I do them in the order they are in your book, or is it best to start with a certain exercise and finish with another? Does it really matter what the order is?
There is no hard and fast rule; it depends on some variables. An analogy may make this clear. Let us change the question slightly as follows. Is there a particular route to take going to your bank?
It depends on a few variables, like whether you wish to walk, take a bus, a subway or drive. It also depends whether you would like to pick up some marketing on the way, or drop by to chat with a friend. It also depends on your starting point, which may or may not be your house.
With some insight from the above analogy, you would better appreciate the answers to your questions. The answers to all your questions are: yes and no, yes or no, either yes or no, neither yes nor no. There is no play of words. The answers are correct and straight-forward.
If I say I do not recommend a particular order doing the exercise, I may be right in some situations and wrong in other situations. If I say I recommend a particular order doing the exercise, I may be right in some situations and wrong in other situations too.
To sum up, forget about all these academic questions, and get on with your practice. Such academic questions may be of interest to chi kung scholars who study chi kung but may not derive any practical benefits from their study. They are not important to chi kung practitioners who benefit from practicing chi kung.
I know that I am being very precise but I am very dedicated to doing this and I really want to get it completely right. So, please give me the best advice that you can to get the best results possible (for my body and heart).
If you are very dedicated to practicing chi kung and really want to get it completely right to get the best results possible for your body and heart, the best advice, and probably the best gift, I can give you is to attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course in Malaysia. Many, many people have told me they could never thank me enough for teaching them chi kung.
But if for any reasons you cannot attend my course, a good piece of advice is to stop worrying about unnecessary details and questions, and practice the chi kung exercises described in my chi kung books according to the ways I describe them, and enjoy yourself.