May 2003 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Western medicine kills 250,000 people per year and is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Death caused by Western doctors has been called iatrogenocide. Ignoring this fact, many Chinese doctors want to integrate Western and Chinese medicine. Do you think that Chinese and Western medicine should be integrated or combined into a single system?
— Marcus, USA
I admire your brave and honest statement, made with sincerity and hope that something could be done to overcome a big problem facing modern societies regarding health and illness.
To me this situation is pathetic on two points. One, traditional Chinese medical philosophy and practice can be used to overcome this big problem of numerous so-called incurable, and sometimes fatal, diseases facing modern societies, but this is not being done due to ignorance, prejudice or vested interest.
Two, instead of introducing traditional Chinese medical philosophy and practice into modern societies to overcome this urgent problem, even those in a position to do so are turning to conventional Western medicine. In China, for example, there were hospitals where traditional Chinese medicine and conventional Western medicine were offered side by side on an equal footing, and patients could choose which medical system to use.
But the trend now is that traditional Chinese medicine is becoming a secondary system, with traditional Chinese physicians fearing that they would be phrased out eventually. Most decision makers in hospitals as well as in governmental health care bodies are trained in Western medicine. Against such a background, your question becomes the more important.
Many people, including most Western trained doctors and some mediocre traditional Chinese physicians, view health and medicine from only one perspective, and it is usually the Western medical perspective. In practical terms it means that if a Western doctor who is sympathetic to traditional Chinese medicine, could not overcome a particular disease, he may look for a traditional Chinese medical method, such as acupuncture or herbs, to treat the disease. To most people, this is only logical. This is because most people view health and medicine from only one perspective, the Western medical perspective.
On the other hand, when a Chinese physician treats his patient, he may take his patients' temperature and blood pressure, and recommends Western medical drugs in his treatment. This is often regarded as an improvement, and the Chinese physicians is regarded as more advanced than his traditional counterparts who do not know how to use Western medical instruments.
Such enterprising Western doctors and Chinese physicians may be successful in individual cases, but for Western medicine as well as traditional Chinese medicine as a whole, it is not a good development. The reason is that Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine employ different paradigms and methods which are often incompatible. Hence, Chinese medicine and Western medicine should not be integrated or combined into a single system. This does not mean that they cannot work together. They can work together side by side, but they cannot work together as an integrated, single system.
Suppose you live on a river bank and you wish to travel to the river mouth. You can reach your destination by car or by boat, but you cannot use your car as a boat or your boat as a car. You may, if desirable, make part or parts of your journey by car, and part or parts of your journey by boat, consecutively or in any order, but you cannot drive your car on the river or sail your boat on the road.
This gives a rough idea of the incompatibility of integrating Chinese and Western medicine into a single system. In your effort to help a patient make the journey from illness to recovery, you may, if desirable, make part or parts of the journey using Chinese medicine, and part or parts of the journey using Western medicine, but not using Chinese and Western medicine as an integrated, single system. This can't be done simply because Chinese medicine and Western medicine use totally different philosophies and approaches.
Take for example a patient suffering from an illness that Western medicine calls high blood pressure. Western doctors define the illness from its symptoms. Thus, to overcome the illness, doctors overcome the high blood pressure. This is normally done by taking drugs to dilate the blood vessels which will them reduce the pressure of blood flowing through them. Western doctors are satisfied with this treatment because from their perspective they have done their job, i.e. lowering the patient's blood pressure. But for the development of medicine, this is unsatisfactory because the treatment only eliminates the symptoms but not the illness.
An enterprising Western doctor employing Chinese medicine as an integrated system, may incorporate Chinese therapeutic methods like herbs and acupuncture (if they are permitted by their medical authorities to do so). But this is also unsatisfactory because actually he is still using the Western system although he substitutes herbs or acupuncture for pharmaceutical drugs. Basically, his attempt is still eliminating symptoms, and not the illness itself, although the therapeutic agents he now uses are herbs and acupuncture.
Chinese medicine operates in a different paradigm. In Chinese medicine an illness is defined not by its symptoms, but by the patient's reaction to disease causing agents. Often it may not be necessary to know what the disease causing agents are! This fact may appear ridiculous to those who only view illness from the Western medical perspective, but paradoxically it is one of the crucial differences between Chinese and Western medicine that will help Western medicine to overcome its present impasse.
In traditional Chinese medicine, a high blood pressure patient will not be described as suffering from high blood pressure! The description depends on his reaction against known or unknown disease causing agents, and in this case it is usually “rising yang energy from the liver”. In other words, a patient described by Western doctors as suffering from high blood pressure, is likely to be described by traditional Chinese physicians as suffering from “rising yang energy from the liver”. The crucial difference is that “high blood pressure” is a symptom, whereas “rising yang energy from the liver” is the cause of the illness.
When Western doctors succeed in eliminating “high blood pressure”, they eliminate the symptom, but the illness remains. When Chinese physicians succeed in eliminating “rising yang energy from the liver”, they eliminate the cause, and the illness disappears.
There are different ways to eliminate “high blood pressure” and “rising yang energy from the liver”. In their historical development, Western doctors have found pharmaceutical drugs useful for eliminating “high blood pressure”, whereas Chinese physicians have found herbs, acupuncture, massage, chi kung and other means useful for eliminating “rising yang energy from the liver”.
The use of pharmaceutical drugs, herbs, acupuncture, etc are means, whereas “eliminating high blood pressure” and “eliminating rising yang energy from the liver” are principles. People often identify a medical system by its means, and seldom by its principles.
In my opinion, while both are important, principles are more important than means. Principles come first, means follow. When we have decided on the principles, we find the means to realize the principles.
The impasse faced by Western medicine today, I believe, is that many of its therapeutic principles may not be valid. In the example of high blood pressure above, Western medicine mistakes the symptom for the disease. Thus, although the means are excellent, the disease still cannot be cured because the therapeutic principle is faulty.
Another example is the case of SARS. The principle underlying research today in finding a cure for SARS is that if doctors understand the SARS virus they can cure patients of SARS. In my opinion, this principle may not be valid. If out of 100 persons infected with the virus, 98 of them could overcome it, the problem lies not with the virus but with the 2 persons who succumb. The question then is not how the virus kills people, but why the 2 persons could not overcome the virus when the other 98 could. The onus of the research, therefore, should be on the patients, rather than on the virus.
Research scientists could ask “What went wrong in the natural working of the two persons who succumb to the virus?” In other words, the Chinese physician attempts to find out the patient's conditions in relation to the disease causing agents. If, for example, the patient's condition is “weakening of the lung system”, by strengthening the lung systems by appropriate therapeutic means the Chinese physician can help the patient recover.
As shown in the two examples above, due to the different philosophy between Chinese and Western medicine, these two systems cannot be integrated into a single system. The greatest contribution Chinese medicine can make towards Western medicine, I believe, is its philosophy.
According to traditional Chinese medical philosophy, a person becomes ill because one or more of his natural systems are not working properly. If we restore the natural working of these systems, the patient will recover as a matter of course. Therefore, the onus of medicine — in diagnosis, pathology, therapeutic, research, etc — should be on the patient, finding out what went wrong inside him due to the influence of outside factors, and not on the outside factors like cholesterol and virus that cause the changes inside him.
I recently bought your book about Shaolin, Taijiquan, etc After reading its content I have several questions as follows. I am currently taking classes in Karate. I believe what is taught in your book could also be applied to Karate to enhance power on overall basis. Please comment.
— Alex, Malaysia
I suppose you are referring to my book, “The Shaolin Arts”. Actually the title is inappropriate, and it should be “The Master Answers”, as it contains a selection of the questions and answers published on my website.
Yes, what is taught in the book can be applied not just to Karate but other martial arts as well as many other disciplines like yoga, alternative medicine and spiritual cultivation.
For example, among many other important points, you may learn from my book that hard conditioning to develop force can be harmful from the Shaolin perspective, and a superior approach is to use chi or energy.
However you should differentiate between knowledge and training. The book provides very helpful knowledge, which can benefit you much in your training. But you should learn the skills from a living instructor and practice at least for some time under his supervision. For example, you may agree that using chi is a superior approach to force training, but how to do so needs to be learnt from a living instructor.
I am interested to learn Chinese Kungfu, Chi Kung, and Taijichuan (hard/combat application). However, I noted that all the master's addresses stated in your book were in Kedah. Would you happen to know of any mastesr in my location — Perak?
Yes, Master Yong Peng Wah, who is one of my certified Shaolin Wahnam instructors, lives in Perak, and his address and other particulars are given at the back of the book.
If, for some reasons Master Yong Peng Wah does not want to teach you, for you to travel to Kedah to learn from other instructors or from me personally is not a problem if you really want to benefit from our Shaolin Wahnam teaching. After all, people from all over the world fly thousands of miles to attend my intensive courses.
I was born with asthma and was a weak child. However, for the last 10 years I have been fighting back this disease by exercising extensively i.e. body-building, running, swimming and now martial art.
What you have been doing for the last 10 years is “confusing stem and branch”, or in English saying “putting the cart before the horse”. Being healthy is the “stem” or cause, whereas being able to exercise extensively in body-building, running and martial art, is the branch or effect.
In other words, first you need to be healthy. Only then you can efficiently engage in extensive exercise. But you have reversed the progress of cause and effect. Actually many people are like you. They, and you, think that by exercising extensively they can be healthy.
When you are sick, exercising extensively will further weaken you. You may not feel the ill effects now because you are young. You may even feel a false impression of health because through conditioned training, your internal organs and systems are used to their over-working. But you are over-burdening your internal organs and systems, and they will show signs of weakness when you reach middle age.
But don't despair. You can overcome your problem by practicing genuine chi kung. First of all chi kung clears your energy blockage to restore your natural functioning, including your natural ability to cleanse pollutants from your lungs. In simple language, it cures you of your asthma and related health problems. Then chi kung enhances your energy level to make you stronger and fitter so that you can better perform body-building, running or any activities you may like to participate.
Genuine chi kung is rare, now as in the past. What is practiced today is usually external chi kung exercise which works on the physical body and not on energy. If you cannot find a genuine chi kung master near where you live, you have to search afar, and you must be ready to pay his price. You must value your health enough to make such sacrifice. It is unreasonable to expect him to travel to your place and teach you free.
I believe my latest discovery in martial art is the best, and that I should have taken it long way back as its exercise is both “aerobic” and “in aerobic”.
I presume that by martial art you refer to Karate as it is normally practiced today. I do not know what you mean by “aerobic” and “in aerobic”, but that does not matter as it does not affect the crucial point I wish you to know.
You are worsening your problem. You have asthma, which means that even in normal sedate life your lungs are inefficient, and this affects all other parts of your body. Yet you over-burden your lungs and other organs by engaging in vigorous exercise like body-building and running. Now you punish your lungs and other organs by punching and kicking them in free sparring, and reducing the flow of energy to them by grimacing your face and tensing your muscles in kata training.
You also do not understand what or why you are doing in your martial art. You think that by practicing martial art you will be healthy and strong, and be able to defend yourself in times of need. As it is, your martial art training is detrimental to your health.
Presuming that your martial art training is typical of what most people are doing today, you have not learnt self defence; you only learn how to perform katas, and to punch and kick widely in simulated combat, with little attention to the techniques learnt in your kata practice. If so-called martial artists today have learnt self-defence, they would not regard being hit and kicked in free sparring as routine punishment. They should not be hit or kicked even once.
Even though I could now manage or control my asthma better I still feel weak or tired most of the time. I believe chi kung could help.
You think you manage or control your asthma, but you are not. Your asthma is actually a symptom of your lungs not functioning properly. But by training diligently in vigorous exercise like body-building and running, you force your lungs to work hard, and because they have been conditioned to work hard, asthmatic attacks occur less frequently.
But the crucial point, which you and most other people may not realize, is that you have been abusing your lungs. Our lungs and other organs are very tough and resilient. Even when some people abuse their organs, the organs still carry on their work faithfully, albeit much below par. But there is a limit to abuse. Pain and illness are signals that the limit is not far away.
When you understand this, you will understand why you feel weak or tired most of the time, despite the extensive exercises which are supposed to make you strong and fit. Practicing genuine chi kung will certainly help. It must be genuine chi kung, not just some gentle exercise which pretends to be chi kung. A crucial difference is that whereas in any physical exercise, you deplete your energy, in chi kung you increase your energy.
However, I am a Christian and believe one should develop mind, body and soul to be a better person. Whereas, it seems chi kung and meditation divert more into Buddhism. Do you think I could still learn and practice chi kung and meditation and benefit from them without mixing both religions?
Definitely you can learn and practice chi kung and meditation and benefit from them without mixing Christianity and Buddhism. Many people did, have done, are doing, and will do that. Many Shaolin and Taijiquan masters expert in chi kung and meditation were, and are, pious Christians.
Due to history and culture, some people mistakenly think that chi kung and meditation are Buddhist or Taoist practices. Similarly some people in remote parts of Asia mistakenly think that all those who speak English are Christians! As many of their early practitioners were Buddhists or Taoists — just as many of the early Christians who came to Asia were English speaking — it was easy to make the mistaken connotation.
Actually chi kung and meditation were practiced by the early Christian Fathers in classical Europe, although they did not call the practices “chi kung” and “meditation”. Faith heeling by Christian priests, which was a major form of medical treatment in Europe during the Middle Ages was a form of chi kung. Reflection on God, which was a major part of training of Christian monks, was a form of meditation.
Chi kung and meditation are non-religious. People of any religion or no official religion can practice and benefit from them without distracting from their religion. On the contrary, many people have become more pious in their own religion after practicing chi kung or meditation because their practice confirms for them by direct experience the validity of some of their beliefs. For example, in deep moments of Standing Meditation in my Intensive Chi Kung Course when they personally experienced tremendous joy as they felt their spirit expanding, many participants suddenly realized the beauty and majesty of God.
Bruce Lee was famous for his ability to punch and kick without telegraphing his movements. From the viewpoint of many martial artists, this is because his kick-boxing type of stance allowed him great mobility. How would a practitioner of Shaolin Kung Fu, with its shifting from stance to stance, punches and kicks without telegraphing what he is going to do, if he is practicing against an opponent who recognizes his fighting style?
Actually if someone fights like Bruce Lee, he would telegraph his punching and kicking movements more clearly than a competent Shaolin Kungfu exponent would do! Someone using kick-boxing stances would telegraph his punches by moving his shoulders forward, and telegraph his kicks by moving his shoulders backward. A competent Shaolin Kungfu exponent, whether he shifts from stance to stance or remains at a particular stance, can more easily camouflage his punches and kicks.
The reason his opponent could not defend against Bruce Lee's kicks was not because he did not telegraph them, but because he was so skilful that his kicks were too fast for his opponent even if the opponent could see the kicks. On the other hand, an incompetent Shaolin Kungfu exponent not only did not camourflage his kicks, his kicks are also slow and clumsy.
In Shaolin Kungfu a competent exponent does not kick whenever he likes. This is because, if all other things were equal, a kick carries with it a few innate disadvantages. Hence, to execute a kick effectively, the exponent must first plan some preparatory actions, such as covering the opponent's hands or distracting him with other feign movements. The standard of kungfu today is so low that most practitioners not only are unaware of the above principles, but also could not kick with force and good balance.
Bruce Lee often criticized this type of Kung Fu as “hindering a fluid man into a classical mess.” He believed that all these forms and stances restricted what he felt was a person's natural movement and hence based his fighting technique on boxing and western fencing.
Each person has his own choice of the manners he fights. Bruce Lee chose the fighting manners of boxing and western fencing, and he fought very well. His criticism of classical kungfu forms was due to his experience with people who practiced kungfu forms but could not employ kungfu to fight effectively.
Had he met kungfu masters like Hoong Hei Khoon and Yang Lu Chan, who used classical kungfu forms to fight fluidly and effectively, Bruce Lee's opinion would be very different. The fact is that kungfu fighters like Hoong Hei Khoon and Yang Lu Chan were extremely rare in Bruce Lee's time, and also extremely rare in our times. The result is that many people, including kungfu practitioners, mistakenly think classical kungfu forms cannot be used for fighting, and even if they themselves practice these kungfu forms in solo performance, in free sparring they would throw away their kungfu forms for boxing and kick-boxing.
My choice, however, is different. I believe in what I practice, and follow the examples of great past masters like Hoong Hei Khoon and Yang Lu Chan. From our direct personal experience, my masters, I myself, and my students have found these classical kungfu forms extremely useful in sparring as well as real fights. The classical kungfu forms were not invented by us, nor by Hoong Hei Khoon and Yang Lu Chan, but were evolved from actual fighting. If some people today cannot use them for fighting, it is because they did not have the opportunity to learn using them.
Brazilian Jujitsu, with its lack of stance but emphasis on grappling techniques and locks, is considered one of the most deadly fighting styles in the world. How would a martial artist counter a fighter who may break his arm after he has thrown a punch?
Brazilian Jujitsu is a sport with safety rules. In a real fight where there are no rules, using Brazilian Jujitsu can be very dangerous for the practitioner. When a Brazilian Jujitsu practitioner uses grappling techniques or locks on an opponent, he is exposing himself to fatal strikes by his opponent.
The opponent may kill or maim him by driving a punch onto the back of his head, or tearing of his throat. If the opponent has a weapon like a knife, he might pierce the knife into the grappler's stomach. Hence, a Shaolin Kungfu practitioner would not fight the way a Brazilian Jujitsu practitioner does.
Suppose you have thrown a punch at a Brazilian Jujitsu practitioner, and he has caught it and is about to lock your arm and break it. What could you do?
To lock and then break your arm, the Brazilian Jujitsu practitioner has to use two hands against your one arm. He also needs some time to execute his locking and breaking techniques, at least two or three movements. He must be near you.
Here are some counters you can use to save your arm, or may be even your life. Pierce two fingers into his eyes. Drive a leopard punch into his throat. Pull hard at his testicles.
You would probably not want to do any of these drastic counters. A genuine Shaolin practitioner would also not want to do it. But a street fighter would. These counters, which need only one move, whereas the Brazilian Jujitsu locking and arm breaking techniques would need at least two or three moves, show how vulnerable the grappler is when fighting with no safety rules.
There are many Shaolin techniques a Shaolin practitioner can use to release his arm without seriously hurting the grappler. Any one of the following patterns would be a good counter: “Hiding Flowers in Sleeves”, “Golden Cockerel Locks Throat”, “Fisherman Casts Net”, “Double Butterflies Flying”, and “Hungry Tiger Catches Goat”. These patterns are too complex to be explained in an e-mail. You need to learn them from a living instructor.
Nevertheless, for your immediate need to save your arm, you can kick hard at his shin and punch hard at his nose.
Another example of the modern combat philosophy is Muai Thai kick-boxing, and I have noticed that a person who studies one year of kick-boxing can easily defeat a student who studies one year of Chinese Kung Ku. I understand that Chinese Kung Fu takes longer to develop, however if the issue is self-defense then wouldn't it be better for someone to study any of the modern combat styles than spend three times that amount of time learning Chinese Kung Fu?
If we are referring to those who use Muai Thai and Chinese Kungfu to fight, I would say the de facto situation of the world today is that more that eight out of ten times, a person who practices Muai Thai for six months can easily defeat a person who practices Chinese Kungfu for three years or for thirty years.
Actually it does not matter for how many years he has practiced Chinese Kungfu. The fact is that he cannot use his Kungfu to fight. If he fights, he usually uses Karate, Taekwondo or Muai Thai. This has become a laughing stock of Kungfu.
Nevertheless, if we take the other 20% of those who can use Chinese Kungfu to fight, the situation will be different. After one year of training, the fighting abilities of a Muai Thai practitioner and a Kungfu practitioner are about equal. But after three years, a Kungfu practitioner can defeat a Muai Thai practitioner most of the time, and after ten years he can defeat the latter almost all the time.
Many people may be surprised that Muai Thai, like Brazilian Jujitsu, is also a sport with safety rules. When safety rules no longer apply, as in a street fight, it may be dangerous for the practitioner to use Muai Thai, though it will not be as dangerous as to use Brazilian Jujitsu.
Suppose you were a notorious street fighter. When a Maui Thai stylist attacks you, grip a hard chair. As he kicks at you or strikes you with his elbow, move a step backward and simultaneously slam the chair onto his leg or arm. Immediately, irrespective of whether his leg, arm or your chair breaks or not, thrust the legs or whatever remains of the chair into your attacker's face or body.
This counter is likely to put your Muai Thai opponent out of action, not because he is not a good Muai Thai fighter, but paradoxically because he is a Muai Thai fighter he is not trained to handle such combat situations, as such things never happen in a Maui Thai fighting ring for which he is specially trained.
What would happen if you apply the same counter to a Kungfu practitioner. In the first place, if you are holding a chair in your hands, a Kungfu practitioner would not attack you with kicks. He would use other techniques and tactics.
Even if he kicks at you, and you slam your chair on his leg, he would know to respond. He may, for example, respond with “Lead Horse Back to Stable” to pull you to fall forward following your attacking momentum, then strike your face with “Fierce Dragon Across Stream”, and finish you off with “Golden Cockerel Stands Solitarily”.
Why could a Kungfu practitioner respond effectively to your chair attack, whereas a Muai Thai practitioner might be quite helpless? It is because the Muai Thai practitioner trains for sport, whereas the Kungfu practitioner trains for real life fighting. And meeting an opponent holding a chair as a weapon is quite common.
Whether one wishes to practice Kungfu or other martial arts or sports is a matter of personal opinion. Nevertheless, the answer above will provide some useful information for making a wise choise.