July 2002 (Part 2)


Iron Palm

The famous Shaolin master, Sifu Ku Ru Zhang, demonstrating his Iron Palm. Iron Palm is normally regarded as an external art, but Sifu Ku's Iron Palm was so profound that it had become internal. It is obvious that no one the size of Sifu Ku could break a pile of bricks if he had no internal force.

Question 1

I was informed that before starting Zhan Zhuang and building energy, it was advisable to do 100 days minimum of standing relaxed, with no posture, in order to make sure the energy built by performing the posture would not be blocked and do harm.

— Scott, England


Both the principle — making sure the energy developed from zhan zhuang is not blocked — and the method you have mentioned — standing relaxed with no posture for a minumim of 100 days — are correct.

Being tensed in zhan zhuang, or stance training, is a major cause of deviation in the training. To make the matter worse, many people thought they were relaxed when they were actually tensed. This statement applies to standing with no posture as well as to performing zhan zhuang itself.

Hence, if you were tensed while standing with no posture, you would have defeated the purpose of the 100 days of training. Even if you spent the first 100 days standing with no posture, but if you are tensed when practicing zhan zhuang after the 100 days, you will still have harmful effects.

Actually "standing relaxed with no posture" is a form of zhan zhuang itself. If you stand upright and relaxed with your feet parallel and close together, you are at the “Wuji Stance”. In Shaolin training, it is Standing Meditation. Not only you must be relaxed, also you must not think of anything. Wuji Stance or Standing Meditation is not easy to do. Most untrained people cannot relax and cannot keep their mind free of thoughts.

A better alternative, therefore, is to perform some mobile type of chi kung, like “Lifting the Sky”, before you perform zhan zhuang. It is easier to learn to be relaxed through practicing “Lifting the Sky” than through Wuji Stance or Standing Meditation. You may perform just “Lifting the Sky” for 100 days, then start zhan zhuang after that. But if time is a limiting factor, you can practice “Lifting the Sky” first, followed by zhan zhuang in the same training session.

Immediately after zhan zhuang, you may stand relaxed with no posture. If you relax enough, you may find your body swaying. This is called “Flowing Breeze and Swaying Tree” in Shaolin training, and is a form of Flowing Meditation. Complete your training session by walking about leisurely for about 5 minutes. This walking about leisurely is important if you train on your own. It is a safety precaution against your energy developed from zhan zhuang being blocked.

Question 2

This I have done and I am now ready to start the standing posture “Lohan Embracing Buddha'”. My intention is to do this daily, and my question is whether I can combine this exercise with another such as “Lifting the Sky”, which I used to perform before starting zhan zhuang and found to be greatly beneficial. If so, which should I perform first, and is it necessary to have the chi returned to the dan tian?


At the beginning stage it is highly recommendable to perform some mobile chi kung exercise like “Lifting the Sky” before performing any zhan zhuang posture, like “Lohan Embracing Buddha”. Later, when you can relax easily, you need not have to preceed your zhan zhuang training with mobile chi kung exercise.

Perform Standing Meditation after zhan zhaung. But if you think you may have harmed yourself by being tensed during zhan zhuang, you can perform mobile chi kung like “Lifting the Sky” after zhan zhuang.

If you practice zhan zhaung correctly, your chi would have been focused at your abdominal dan tian naturally. When you perform “Lifting the Sky” you should not think of your dan tian, or return your chi to your tan tian. You should let your chi flow naturally. But just before you complete your training session, stand upright, remain still and relax, and return your chi to your dan tian by gently thinking of your dan tian.

Question 3

Many world class boxers weigh perhaps almost twice as much as a typical Asian man, and have superior reach (due to height) and tremendous punching speed and power. I was wondering if a good Asian kungfu exponent would be able to match or surpass their ability to generate power, and also whether he would be able to beat a good boxer in a fight.

— Earnest, Singapore


A geneuine kungfu exponent who develops internal force, irrespective of whether one is Asian or otherwise, male or female, can generate more power than a Western Boxer, and be able to beat the latter in a fight. But today it is hard to find a genuine kungfu exponent; it is even harder to find one who has internal force.

Although many people say they practice kungfu, including modernized wushu, what they actually practice is not genuine kungfu. Not that these people are dishonest, but that they themselves do not realize this fact. What they practice and often can perform beautifully is external kungfu or wushu forms. They do not know how to fight and they have no power. Most of them will be beaten by a Western Boxer or a Muay Thai fighter in a fight.

The internal force of a genuine kungfu exponent is more powerful because it is not limited by physical factors, whereas the muscular strength of a Western Boxer or a Muay Thai fighter is. Internal force is derived from energy, whereas muscular strength is derived from muscular mass and mechanical speed.

There is a limit to how big muscles can grow and how fast you can move them. Moreover, muscular mass and mechanical speed are mutually detrimental. To be more powerful, you increase muscular mass or you increase speed. But when you increase mass your speed becomes slower, and to increase speed you have to reduce mass.

Internal force, on the other hand, depends on how much cosmic energy you can use and how strong your mind is. The supply of cosmic energy and the power of mind are unlimited. The following true story which happened to a daughter of my student in Australia illustrates the unlimted and fantastic power of energy and mind..

Julie's husband parked his truck on a gentle slope in front of their house. He went to the back of the truck to unload some belongings. The brake failed, the truck rolled back, her husband fell onto the road with the truck on top of him. Julie ran out of the house and lifted the truck with her bare hands to free her husband.

She was about 22 years old then, without any martial art or chi kung experience, and was pregnant. At other times she could not even lift a heavy box. Neither she nor her baby was hurt by her incredible feat. It was her love for her husband and the urgent need to save him that generated the fantastic power of mind and energy.

Question 4

Unless I am mistaken, Western Boxers and Muay Thai fighters do not incorporate chi kung into their training, and they utilize only muscular strength in their techniques and not jing.


Muscular strength can be very powerful too. A powerful punch of a Western Boxer can crack a skull, and a powerful kick of a Muay Thai fighter can break a few bones.

But in kungfu philosophy such power is not necessarily desirable. Its use is severely limited. It is only useful for breaking skulls and bones and the like; it does not add to the exponent's stamina or make his mind fresher.

Worse, it is actually detrimental to his health! The energy which could be used to maintain and nourish his organs and systems is now channeled to and locked in the massive muscles. Secondly, already with less energy his organs and systems have to work harder to compensate for the extra burden brought on by the massive muscles.

With this understanding it is no surprise why, despite their fitness, Western Boxers and Muay Thai fighters are not healthy, physically, emotionally and mentally. By the time they reach fourty, many of them have serious health problems. They may be able to overcome these problems if they have practiced chi kung.

Differentiating Yin-Yang

Master Riccardo of Italy and Master Javier of Spain, both of whom are Taijiquan instructors of Shaolin Wahnam, practicing Taijiquan Pushing Hands. To avoid Master Javier's push, Master Riccardo employs the principle of “differentiating yin-yang” — his stance is solid but his waist movement is agile.

Question 5

I've seen demonstrations of Iron Shirt Chi Kung, and it appears to me that someone with such a skill would not have to fear being hit by a Western Boxer or Muay Thai fighter at all. Is that true?


This is not true. It depends on the relative force of the combatants. If the Western Boxers or Muay Thai fighters are very powerful, their strikes or kicks can damage exponents with Iron Shirt.

In the past kungfu exponents with Iron Shirt would not want others to know he had this skill. If an opponent knew it, he would not attack as he would normally do, but attack weak spots like eyes, throat and groin.

Some public demonstrations of Iron Shirt today are actually “strong men's shows”. For example, when a person lies on a bed of nails and supports a huge piece of granite on his chest, and have the granite broken by someone with a sledge hammer, what you see is a “strong men's show”. Almost any helfty young man can replace the performer in this feat.

Question 6

I've seen a school which teaches Xing Yi Quan. Is Xing Yi considered a form of Shaolin Kungfu, or derived from Shaolin? Would you recommend Xing Yi to someone who wants to learn self-defence, or to someone who wishes to practice martial arts for health?


Xingyiquan, or Hsing Yi Kungfu, is one of the three famous internal styles of Chinese martial arts, the other two being Taijiquan and Baguazhang. Xinyiquan literally means “Kungfu of Form and Mind”

It is the “hardest” of the three internal styles, and one that mainly uses the fist. Its philosophy is based on the “five elemental processes” of metal, water, wood, fire and earth; and its forms are based on the twelve animals of dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, tortoise, cockerel, hawk, swallow, snake, kite, eagle and bear.

Xingyiquan was developed by the great marshal of the Song Dynasty, Yue Fei, who like Guan Yu is considered by the Chinese as a God of Martial Art. Yue Fei also developed two other styles of kungfu, namely Eagle Claw Kungfu and Yuejiaquan (or Yue Family Kungfu).

Like Taijiquan which came later, Xingyiquan is generally not considered as a form of Shaolin Kungfu but it was derived from Shaolin. Yue Fei's teacher was Zhou Tong, a Shaolin master.

Yes, I would recommend Xingyiquan to someone who wishes to train kungfu for health and self-defence. The student must learn from a genuine Xingyiquan master, who is very rare today.

Question 7

I would be grateful if you could explain the concept of “double weightedness”. I have heard different explanations of the meaning of this statement from people practicing other styles of Tai Chi.

I think I understand the concept of double weightedness in the legs as the lack of potential for movement (to step or shift the weight). I think that avoiding double weightedness is more than just making sure you have most of your weight on one leg -- as the Horse Stance appears in our form which has weight equally distributed over both feet. So I think to be double weighted must mean having difficulty in shifting the weight -- or not being in a posture that is cable of flexibility or change.

— Ian, England


The concept you refer to is known as “the weakness of double yang”, and one of its many manifestations is “double weightedness”. It applies in all styles of kungfu, but is mostly mentioned in Taijiquan.

You are right in saying that “double weightedness” is not just having most of the body weight on one leg, but having difficulty in mobility or flexibility. In some situations, like at the Horse-Riding Stance as you have mentioned, the weight should be equally distributed on both legs. But even in such situations, one must guard against the “weakness of double yang”. In other words, one should be solid and stable, yet at the same time he must also be agile and flexible. In Shaolin terminology, this is expressed as “heavy but not clumsy”.

To overcome this “weakness of double yang”, one applies the principle of “differentiating yin-yang”. Hence, before you move from the Horse-Riding Stance, you have to shift your weight to one leg, called the yang leg, and move the other leg, the yin leg.

What if you wish to spring away with both legs from a Horse-Riding Stance? You also have to differentiate yin-yang. But here yin-yang refers not to the left or the right leg, but to another complimentary aspects of the situation. Here, yin refers to your two feet on the ground, and yang refers to the bending of your knees to spring up. If you do not bend your knees, i.e. if you do not differentiate yin-yang, you would be clumsy in moving away. On the other hand, if you merely bend your knees but do not have your two feet on the ground to act for anchorage, you moving away would not be agile.

Question 8

The Wuji position at the start of the form also has weight distributed over both feet. But it is a desirable position as you have control over your posture/centre of gravity and have the potential for movement in any direction as it is an uncommitted stance. Is this incorrect?


You are only partially correct. Whether the Wuji or any stance is desirable depends on the purpose for which it is used. If you wish to enter into a chi kung state of mind, like when you begin to practice your Taijiquan, the Wuji Stance is excellent. If you are engaged in combat, the Wuji Stance is usually not desirable.

You should have control over your posture and centre of gravity as well as have the potential for movement in any direction in whatever stance you use. The key to accomplish all these is to differentiate yin-yang.

Whether you are committed or uncommitted depends on you, and not on the stance. In kungfu, where life and death was involved, one must always be committed no matter what pattern he may be performing and what stance he may adopt. Among other things, commitment includes being mentally alert and physically ready for any situation, and having purpose and direction in any action.

But you may have a different meaning for being “uncommitted”. You may mean that in the Wuji Stance, one merely stands with the feet close together, and he does not have to adopt any special hand and leg positions like at the Horse-Riding Stance or the Bow-Arrow Stance. This presumption is incorrect.

Indeed, merely standing without taking care of special hand and leg positions is not the Wuji Stance. And many people who attempt the Wuji Stance may not do so correctly.

In the Wuji Stance, one has to stand upright. Not many people do that; they often arch their back. The feet have to be close together and parallel. Many people position their feet like the letter V. It is very important to be relaxed. Most untrained people are tensed, although they think they are relaxed.

Question 9

Also I have heard people talk of “double weightedness” in the hands. I have thought a lot about this but cannot fathom what they must be describing


The concept of “double weightedness” which is a manifestation of the “weakness of double yang” can be manifested in many ways. If you have tremendous force in your hands, but they are not flexible, then you have the “weakness of double yang”. Alternatively, if you are very flexible with your hand movements, but they lack force, that is also the “weakness of double yang”.

If one questions why that is not called the “weakness of double yin”, this is an example of dualistic thinking or rigid thinking. Yin and yang are symbols representing two opposite yet complementary aspects of a situation. Hence, yin and yang may have different meanings in different situations. It is a convention to talk of the “weakness of double yang”.

In the first case where you have force but lack fexibility, the two opposite and complementary aspects in question are force and flexibility. The known aspect is force and is represented by yang. In this situation the opposite and complementary aspect is not lack of force, but flexibility and is represented by yin. The “weakness of double yang” -- where there is yang but no yin — is that he has force but not flexibility.

In the second case where you have flexbilty but lack force, the two aspects are flexibility and force. The known aspect here is flexibility and is represented by yang, and being unknown here is represented by yin. Hence the “weakness of double yang” refers to his having flexibility but not force. By convention, what is known is represented by yang, and what is unknown is represented by yin.

In Shaolin terms, this concept is expressed as one must be "heavy but not clumsy, fast but not floating". This means a Shaolin disciple is powerful but not inflexible, fast but not without force.

In Shaolin terms, this concept is expressed as one must be "heavy but not clumsy, fast but not floating". This means a Shaolin disciple is powerful but not inflexible, fast but not without force.

If both your hands and legs are “heavy”, which is a kungfu jargon meaning that your strikes are powerful and your stances are solid, you may also commit the “weakness of double yang”. Here, yang represents “heaviness”, and yin, which is absent, represents agility. An opponent exploiting your weakness can defeat you though he may not be as powerful and solid as you. He will dodge your powerful attacks, move aside and strike your weak spots like eyes and throat.

You can overcome the weakness by having agile hand movements while your stances are solid, or having powerful strikes while your footwork is agile. Hence, although you may be relatively immobile due to your solid stances, your agile hand movements can ward off his attacks. Alternatively, although your hand movements may be slow, due to their “heaviness”, your agile footwork enables you to avoid his attacks.

The best alternative, of course, is to be both “heavy” and “agile”, i.e. not only your strikes are powerful and your stances solid, they are also flexible and versatile. To accomplish this, you have to differentiate yin-yang. Here, yang refers not to the hands and legs but to “heaviness”, and yin to “agility”.

Other examples of the “weakness of double yang” include knowing combat application but without force to back the application and vice versa, being able to fight well but having poor health, and being a good martial artist but leading a miserable life.

Taijiquan sparring

Size, age and gender become unimportant when one has internal force

Question 10

I am confused about is the concept of internal power. I have heard many people say that to practice Tai Chi Chuan without training internal strength is no bad thing — it is still a beneficial thing to do, but that it can no longer be used as an effective martial art.


Internal power is self-explanatory. It is the power that comes from inside, i.e. from essence, energy and mind, as opposed to power that comes from outside, i.e. from muscles and speed. However, to those who have no experience of internal power, all these are hollow words.

No matter how well a master may describe what internal power is, someone without direct experience would still not understand. It is like concepts such as “chi”, love or happiness, or an exotic fruit like a durian. If you have not seen a durian or eaten it, no matter how well it is described you would not know how it looks like or how it tastes.

By definition, Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) is an internal martial art. Hence, one cannot practice Tai Chi Chuan without internal power or without combat application — it would have ceased to be Tai Chi Chuan. For convenience I call it Tai Chi dance.

Practicing Tai Chi dance is not without benefits. But not only Tai Chi dancers cannot defend themselves, they would not enjoy the type of health and vitality that a great martial art is reputed to give. Tai Chi dancers will get benefits that dancing will give, such as elegance, balance and general well being.

Question 11

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to practice some internal strength exercises with my teacher. I can certainly feel the benefits. I feel healthier and more energetic, I feel that my root and posture have improved and also I feel more robust and relaxed.

The health benefits of these exercises are apparent to me and I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn them. But how would internal power manifest itself? I think it is to strengthen the body against attack and increase balance/coordination and fitness.


If you do not know what internal strength is, it is quite certain you do not have it. It is like being happy, in love or having eaten a durian. If you have been happy or in love or have eaten a durian, you will certainly know it, without bothering to know their definitions. Interestingly, no one who has attended any of my intensive courses where developing internal force is an integral part of the training, asks me what internal force is.

All the benefits which you have mentioned — feeling healthier and more energetic, improvement in your root and posture, being more robust and relaxed.— can be obtained from external physical exercise, such as performing Tai Chi dance.

Internal power can manifest in many ways. Strengthening the body against attack and increasing balance, coordination and fitness are just some of its benefits, but these benefits can also be derived from external strength.

A crucial difference between external strength and internal power is this. External strength operates only at the physical level, but internal power operates at the physical, the energetic and the spiritual. For example, if you have an infection or a kidney problem — which are energy disorders — internal power can help you to overcome the problems but physical strength cannot. If you are depressed or your mind is dull — which are spiritual disorders — internal force can make you cheerful and mentally fresh, but physical strength cannot.

Even at the physical level, physical strength has certain limitations, but internal power does not. For example, you may become tired after sparring for fifteen minutes if you use physical strength, but if you use internal force you may spar for two hours without being tired. You may run for a mile or two at twenty but not at fifty; with internal force there is no age limit.

Question 12

How can internal strength be used in fighting? I don't understand how it can be used in a technique.


You can use internal strength for fighting by making the best use of all your three components, namely essence, energy and mind.

When you use external strength in fighting, you are limited by your size, sex and age. Using external strength, a fragile, old woman would have no chance against a hefty, young man. But if she uses internal strength, she can beat him.

When you use internal strength in a technique — be it in Tai Chi Chuan, swimming or making love — you relax your muscles, attain a one-pointed mind, and channel your energy flow for the purpose. As a result, not only you can perform the technique better, you can last much longer and have more reward.

Let us take an example in Tai Chi Chuan. Suppose you were a small-sized person and a huge brute grips your arms. Using external strength you may not be able to do anything. But you have internal force. You lower your stance, focus your mind, relax all your muscles, direct your energy flow to execute the lu technique in “Grasping Sparrow's Tail”, and throw the brute elegantly onto the ground — all in a split second. If you think this is impossible, be assured that this is routine training in my Intensive Taijiquan Course.

Question 13

When you describe the power of a master's palm strike being down to internal power, how is that different from momentum and kinetic energy generated from shifting/twisting the body or the power generated by muscles?


The principle, method and result are all different. In principle, the muscular power comes from mass and momentum, whereas the internal force comes from energy flow and mind.

The method of generating muscular power is to drive the palm with speed onto the target. The muscles need to be tensed for the action. The striking agent is the palm. In generating internal power, the master's focused mind directs intrinsic energy to flow from his dan tian into the opponent. The striking agent is his intrinsic energy. His palm is only a medium.

If the attacker has a massive palm, a strike with external strength damages the surface of the target, resulting in external injury. Sometimes the impact may go deeper, resulting in fractured bones. A palm strike with internal strength may leave no mark at the surface, but the damage is internal. The intrinsic energy of the master may distort the opponent's energy field or shock his internal organs.



Courses and Classes