April 2003 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
With the increased world's concern about the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), I would like to ask Sifu the following questions: In history especially in ancient China, did this syndrome ever happen before?
— Cahyadi, Indonesia
I don't know the answer because firstly there is no direct correspondence between the name of one disease in Western medicine and the name of the same disease in traditional Chinese medicine. Secondly, in traditional Chinese medicine, diseases are named not by their symptoms, as in the case in Western medicine, but by their causes in relation to the body's functions.
This may seem odd to many people, especially those who view health and illness from only one perspective, usually the Western medical perspective. To them if a disease is called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in one language, such as English, it must also be called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in another language, such as Chinese, even though the sounds of the words may be different but the meaning is the same. This is not so because different peoples view health and diseases differently.
Hence, in traditional Chinese medicine, there are no diseases called depression or high blood pressure, two very common diseases in the West. This does not mean there were no people in ancient China who suffered from what modern Western doctors would call depression and high blood pressure. The ancient Chinese physicians would call these diseases differently, such as “jian wang” (literally “health loss”) and “gan huo shang yan” (liver fire rising up).
But not all patients suffering from “jian wang” or “gan hua shang yan” suffered from what modern Western doctors would call depression or high blood pressure. “Jian wang” patients, for example, might suffer from loss of memory or anxiety.
If a patent suffering from what in Western medicine is callded Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome consults a Chinese physician, depending on the pathogenic condition of the patient's body systems, the physician may name the disease like “fei zhang” (literally lung swelling) “fei qi xu” (deficiency of lung energy) or “fei huo” (lung fire).
This does not mean that another patient diagnosed by a Chinese physician to be suffering from “fei zhang”, “fei qi zu” or “fei huo” is suffering from what Western doctors would call Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. He may suffer from bronchitis or pneumonia.
This may give some people the false impression that Chinese medicine is not exact. This is not so; it is just different ways of looking at the same thing. For example, looking at a whale, most Chinese (and perhaps many Westerners too in their everyday conversation) would call it a fish, but some Westerners steep in science would call it a mammal. On the other hand, when you mention “fish”, it is not necessary that the Chinese would think of a whale, they may think of a shark or a salmon.
From the chi kung perspective, is this still a part of energy blockage?
Yes, from the chi kung perspective, which is based on Chinese medical knowledge, there is only one illness, and at the most fundamental level there is only one cause. The name of the illness is “yin-yang disharmony”, which has countless different symptoms. Western medicine gives different names to the illness according to the symptoms. Chinese medicine also gives different names to generalize these symptoms, like “jian wang” and “fei huo” mentioned above. But they are always aware that the illness is “yin-yang disharmony”.
There may be many immediate causes of illness or “yin-yang disharmony”. In Western terms, the immediate causes may be viruses, bacteria, fungi, stress, negative emotions, physical injury, wrong food, poisons, chemicals and many other countless things. The Chinese generalize all internal and external causes into “seven emotions and six evils”, which are symbolic terms describing not the immediate causes themselves, but the patient's conditions in response to these immediate causes.
Herein lies a crucial philosophical difference, which not even many medical experts realize, but which explains why, at least in theory, Chinese medicine can overcome any diseases, whereas many diseases are “incurable” in Western medicine. This philosophical difference is so important, albeit so little known, that I would like to elaborate on it.
As Western medicine defines illness by symptoms, the onus of treatment therefore is on removing symptoms. On the other hand, as Chinese medicine defines illness by the psychological and physiological functions of the patients, the onus of treatment is on restoring these functions. Chinese physicians therefore attempt to find out what aspects of the body systems are not functioning naturally, and rectify them.
Superficially it appears that Western medicine is doing the same thing, i.e. restoring natural functions, but it is not. In the case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, for example, the onus of research is studying the virus in question and finding means to overcome it. This is logical as all modern medical research scientists are trained in the Western medical tradition, and they are operating within the Western medical framework. Their presumption is that if a virus behaves in a certain way, it will behave in the same way in all patients. They have been so used to this presumption that they never question whether the presumption is valid.
Let us have a scenario if the medical research scientists were trained in traditional Chinese medicine. They would forget about the virus! This would be shocking to most people, as most people also operate from the Western medical perspective. In fact, Chinese medical scientists knew about what the West now calls virus, long before the West did. The Chinese did not call it “virus”, they called it “wen qi” or “virulent energy” They knew “wen qi” spread by air and physical contact, and caused virulent diseases, so during epidemics caused by “wen qi” in ancient times Chinese physicians advised the public to wear masks and wash their hands and body regularly.
But in their research to overcome “yin-yang disharmony” caused by “wen qi”, or in Western terms, a disease like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome caused by virus, these researchers trained in traditional Chinese medicine would focus on their patients rather than on the virus. This is only logical as their purpose is to restore the natural functions of the patients, and not to understand the behavior of the virus. This does not mean understanding the behavior of the virus is not useful, it is. But the researchers must have proper focus and priority.
As these functions are natural, restoring them is possible. Let us examine the case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. A patient suddenly finds that he has severe acute breathing problems. The traditional Chinese therapeutic approach, which is different from the conventional Western therapeutic approach, is to find out what went wrong in the patient. Let us suppose that a thorough diagnosis shows there is too much “fire” in the lungs of the patient, and this in turn is caused by insufficient “water” from the kidneys to “quench” the “fire”. Please note that “fire”, “water” and “quench” here are Chinese medical jargons, and they do not refer to fire, water or quenching in the ordinary sense.
If the Chinese physician can increase the kidney “water” to “quench” the lung “fire”, the patient will recover as a matter of course. In theory, recovery is certain because breathing normally is a natural process. If the purpose were to make the patient breathe with his stomach, for example, that would be unnatural, and therefore not possible. The inability of the patient to breathe normally is only a temporary setback, and therefore can be rectified.
Saying that "yin-yang disharmony is due to the inability of kidney water to quench lung fire" is one way of describing the cause of illness from the traditional Chinese medical perspective, and this operates at the system level. In other words, in this case yin-yang disharmony occurs because the lung system and the kidney system are not functioning normally. Once the Chinese physician can restore the normal functions of these systems — by herbs, acupuncture, massage therapy or other means — the patient recovers.
Chi kung operates at a deeper level than the systems, it operates at the most fundamental level of energy. From the chi kung perspective, excess of “fire” in the lung system, and inadequacy of “water” in the kidney system are due to energy blockage. For some reasons, energy that is required to regulate the right amount of “fire” at the lungs, and to transport the right amount of “water” from the kidneys is prevented from flowing to where it should be to do its work. The fantastic thing about chi kung is that we do not even need to know what reasons caused the blockage, where the blockage is, or how “water” quenches “fire”. As long as harmonious energy flow is restored, the energy will naturally do its work.
What preventive measures should be taken to avoid being infected? In case someone has already been infected, what Chinese medicine can be effectively applied?
Besides the preventive measures recommended by conventional health care authorities, such as avoiding congested places and wearing a mask, the best preventive measure is to have practiced chi kung. Viruses are everywhere, some of which are very deadly. Yet, we are not sick because of our wonderful immune system. The forte of chi kung is to enhance our immune system.
If you think of Chinese medicine as herbal medicine, as many people do, what herbs are suitable for overcoming Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome will depend on a thorough diagnosis of the patient's conditions. Generally “cleansing” herbs are used.
If you think of Chinese medicine in its wide sense, the best therapeutic method, I believe, is chi kung therapy. “Self-manifested chi movement” is an excellent choice. It is helpful to have a hot drink just before performing chi kung exercises to induce self-manifested chi movement. The hot drink promotes sweating which will drain out the harmful virus as sweat.
Those not familiar with Chinese medicine may think this is ridiculous, but it is not. Sweating as a therapeutic means to clear “evils of illness” out of the body, which in Western terms would include disease-causing agents like bacteria, viruses, fungi as well as toxic waste, is a standard therapeutic method in Chinese medicine. Sweating can be induced by herbs, acupuncture, massage therapy and other means. Sweating as a therapeutic method was also used by Westerners in the past before chemotherapy was invented. It may be fruitful for modern medical research scientists to look into this successful method used by ancient physicians in cases like viral attack where antibiotics are helpless.
In your opinion is Shaolin the ultimate Martial Art?
— Joe, U.S.A.
Yes, in my opinion Shaolin is the ultimate martial art, in the sense that it is the best. I would also like to add that this claim is not due to my practicing Shaolin, but rather it is the other way round. Because Shaolin is the ultimate, or the best, I practice it. In my young days I had good opportunities to practice other styles of kungfu as well as non-Chinese martial arts. But I chose Shaolin because it is the best.
There are many reasons why I consider it the best. You will have more details if you refer to my website at Why Shaolin Kungfu is the Greatest Martial Art. Here I shall briefly explain three of the reasons.
It is the most combat efficient. While many other martial arts focus on only one aspect of fighting, like kicking or throwing, Shaolin is comprehensive. While most other martial arts operate mainly at the level of techniques only, Shaolin surpasses this and pays much attention to tactics and strategies.
Secondly, Shaolin Kungfu contributes to good health. The training itself generates harmonious energy flow, promoting vitality and mental freshness. But in many other martial arts, practitioners routinely injure themselves in the process of training itself. For example, judo practitioners are routinely thrown to the ground and karate exponents routinely endure punches and kicks in their sparring practice. External martial artists often tense their bodies in their solo training, thus causing much energy blockage.
The third and most significant reason is that Shaolin Kungfu training is itself a process of spiritual cultivation, and leads to the highest spiritual attainment, called by different terms by different peoples, such as Enlightenment, Merging with the Great Void, and Returning to God. In most other martial arts, not only is the spiritual aspect neglected, it is sometimes detrimental to the practitioners' psyche due to their brutal and aggressive nature.
Also would a Shaolin student respect a Northern Praying Mantis student because of the history of Wang Lang?
Shaolin disciples respect not only exponents of Northern Praying Mantis Kungfu but of all martial arts, including their opponents in life-death combat. A Shaolin disciple fights not because he wants to, but because he has to. If he has a choice, he would prefer drinking tea, playing chess, admiring the sunset, or any other worthwhile activities that bring benefits rather than harm, even to his opponents.
If a Shaolin disciple has to fight, he will fight well, but he still respects his opponent and will not, for example, abuse him, like continuously punishing him even though he has been defeated or insulting him by calling him scornful names.
There are a few reasons why Shaolin disciples are respectful to others, including their opponents. One, they respect life. Two, they respect those who have devoted much time and effort to their training. Three, they practice the Buddha's teachings. Insulting others is doing evil, showing respect is doing good and contributes to mind cultivation — the three cardinal teachings of the Buddha.
Nevertheless, you might have a different meaning in mind when you mentioned respecting a Northern Mantis student due to the history of Wang Lang, especially when this was said after asking whether I considered Shaolin Kungfu the ultimate martial art. Perhaps you were thinking whether a Shaolin disciple would consider a Northern Praying Mantis exponent a formidable opponent.
Yes, a Shaolin disciple would consider him formidable. Actually Northern Praying Mantis is a style of Shaolin Kungfu. When Wang Lang, the founder of Praying Mantis Kungfu, was practicing kungfu at the Shaolin Temple, he used Praying Mantis to defeat all his classmates, who were then practicing Lohan Kungfu, another style of Shaolin Kungfu.
Victory in combat depends on a number of factors. In the case of Wang Lang, the most important factors were the new Praying Mantis techniques which he discovered and which his classmates were unfamiliar with, as well as the new skills he had developed in using these new techniques efficiently, especially in agile footwork, Mantis Hands and inauspicious kicks, in overcoming bigger-sized and more powerful opponents.
Today, as well as at most of the times in the past, the most important factor in combat is not techniques but skills — a fact not many people may realize or even believe. This does not mean techniques are not important. They were crucial in the case of Wang Lang. They are also important today in haphazard free sparring where combatants have little skills and techniques. At low level free sparring, if you rush in with some techniques, your opponents often do not know what to do.
But if the combatants are properly trained — which should be the case or else it would be suicidal to enter combat — then skills are far more important than techniques, because they would, or should, know how to counter every technique the opponents use. Hence, even if your martial art is straight-forward, if you are very skilful, especially if you are powerful and fast, so long as you do not expose yourself to decisive counter-attacks, you can be a formidable fighter your opponent respects, or fears.
I became very interested in Taijiquan. I researched it much online and found out a lot about it. I also found an instructor close by. He seems very qualified and certified. It costs $120 dollars for 10 lessons (1 hour and a half each). Those 10 lessons will last me about 2 months and will teach me the first Yang-style form, foundation exercises, qigong, and basic techniques.
Well, when the two months is up I might not be able to afford the next set of lessons for a little while. I was wondering if it would be good or bad for me to just keep practicing what I do learn until I can afford the next set of classes? Or what should I do?
— Michael, USA
Yours is a case common to many people. And I am giving my opinion honestly as it is asked of me. You have to evaluate my opinion and decide for yourself to accept, reject or modify it.
Despite your research, you have not understood what Taijiquan is. This is no slight on you, and no surprise. The really surprising fact is that more than 90% of those who say they practice Taijiquan, including “masters”, and including Taijiquan champions in China today, do not really know what Taijiquan is, or if they do know, they do not practice it the way Taijiquan is supposed to be. Taijiquan is an internal martial art, but there is nothing internal or martial in the “Taijiquan” practiced by these more than 90% practitioners.
What they practice is external Taiji forms, which for convenience I call Taiji dance. Much of what you read online and in books is Taiji dance.
From the information supplied by you, I do not think the instructor you refer to, teaches Taijiquan. I think he teaches Taiji dance.
If you are a fresh beginner attending a regular class, no genuine Taijiquan master will teach you the first Yang-style form, foundation exercises, qigong, and basic techniques in two months. And no genuine Taijiquan master will charge a normal class fee of $120 per student for two months. He will either teach you free or charge you at least ten times the amount. Charging you $120 for two months and having you doubt whether it is worth it, is insulting himself and his art. It is like a world class footballer charging you $120 for two months to teach you football.
But Taiji dance is not without its benefits. You will learn relaxation and balance and how to perform graceful Taiji forms. For many people practicing Taiji dance is more suitable than practicing genuine Taijiquan. If you practiced genuine Taijiquan in a regular class, for example, you might just practice the “Three Circle Stance”, and nothing else, for six months.
If you are happy with Taiji dance, the instructor you mentioned, has a good offer. If you cannot afford further classes after two months, it does not matter. Just continue practicing and enjoying what you have learnt. Join the class again when you can afford. Or if you have an opportunity in future, convert your Taiji dance into genuine Taijiquan.
Can you please tell me why are Chum Kiu and Biu Jee forms not found in your style of Wing Choon?
— Kuan, Malaysia
The style of Wing Choon Kungfu I practice is Choe Family Wing Choon, as it was originally taught only within the Choe Family in south China. Sigung Choe Onn was the first person to bring it from China to Malaysia and taught a few people outside the Choe Family. My sifu, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, was the first person to teach this style of Wing Choon openly to the public.
Chum Kiu (Sinking Bridge) and Biu Jee (Thrusting Fingers) are found in Choe Family Wing Choon. But they are not found as separate individual sets, as it is the case in Yip Mann Wing Choon, the style of Wing Choon that is most popularly practiced today.
In Choe Family Wing Choon, Chum Kiu and Biu Jee are found within the fundamental set which is called Siu Lin Tao. Word by word “Siu Lin Tao” means “Little-Practice-Beginning”. In Yip Mann Wing Choon, Siu Lim Tao, Chum Kiu and Biu Jee are three separate sets. The patterns are similar. The difference is that in Choe Family Wing Choon they are all in one set, called “Siu Lin Tao”, whereas in Yip Mann Wing Choon they are in three sets, called “Siu Lim Tao”, “Chum Kiu “and “Biu Jee”. “Siu Lim Tao” word by word means “Little-Thought-Beginning”.
In Yip Man Wing Choon there are only these three unarmed sets, besides two weapon sets, called “Luk Tim Poon Khuen” (Six-and-a-Half-Point staff) and Pat Cham Tou (Eight Chop Kniives).
On the other hand there are many unarmed and weapon setrs in Choe Family Wing Choon, such as “Fa Khuen” (Flower Set), “Choy-Li-Fatt” (Kungfu of Choy, Li and Fatt Families), “Sui Ta” (Essence of Combat), “Chooi Pat Seen” (Drunken Eight Immortals), “Cheen Cheong” (Battle Palms), “Luk Tim Poon Khuen” (Six-and-a-Half Staff), “Jen Tze Tou” (Human-Character Knives), “Tai Pa” (Big Trident), “Sap Sam Cheong” (Thirteen Spear), “Kwan Tou” (Knife of Kwan), “Than Tou” (Single Knife), “Yoon Phin” (soft whip) and “Wang Tao Thang” (kungfu bench).
Another noticeable difference between Choe Family Wing Choon and Yip Mann Wing Choon is that in Choe Family Wing Choon many stances are used, including Horse-Riding Stance, Bow-Arrow Stance, False Leg Stance and Unicorn Step, besides Goat Stance and Four-Six Stance, whereas in Yip Mann Wing Choon only Goat Stance and Four-Six Stance are used.
Do traditional Shaolin Kung Fu masters practice chi kung and kung fu with music in the background? I asked this question because “chi kung” and “kung fu music” is being sold in the United States.
— Marcus, USA
No, traditional Shaolin masters as well as students practicing genuine Shaolin Kungfu and chi kung do not have music in the background during their training.
In the past, playing music in the background for someone practicing kungfu or chi kung might be taken as an insult; it implied that what was being practiced was not genuine kungfu or chi kung but “flowery fists and embroidery kicks” or some form of dance. Indeed, many Taiji and chi kung dancers today add music to their dancing, especially at public demonstrations.
Nevertheless, martial music may sometimes be used in public demonstrations of kungfu. Such music is not music of piano, violins, guitars and other usual musical instruments, but music of drum, gong and cymbals like those in lion dance performance.