August 2003 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
How different is your Shaolin Wahnam teaching from the teaching of the monks from the Henan temple? Does your curriculum include the original methods taught in Songshan, such as Xiaohongquan, Liuxingqquan and San Jie Gun?
— Lam, Malaysia
The Shaolin Kungfu I teach at Shaolin Wahnam is very different from the kungfu or wushu taught at the Shaolin Temple in Songshan in Henan in northern China today, but very similar to the traditional Shaolin Kungfu taught at the Shaolin Temple in Fujian in southern China in the past.
In my opinion, what is taught at the Shaolin Temple in China today as well as by modern Shaolin monks from Songshan in other parts of the world is not traditional Shaolin Kungfu, but modernized wushu, although the modern monks teach kungfu forms like Xiao Hong Quan and Liu Xing Quan.
We sincerely believe that what we practice and teach at Shaolin Wahnam now is what was practiced and taught at the southern Shaolin Temple in China about 200 years ago. Hence, we do not practice or teach northern Shaolin forms and weapons like Xiao Hong Quan (Little Red Set) and San Jie Gun' (Three-Sectional Staff)
I do not know about Liu Xing Quan (Six-Form Set), but we do practice and teach Wu Xing Quan (Five-Form Set, or Five-Animal Set). Nevertheless, we do not pay much attention to forms as sets by themselves. This is one of the many differences between our teaching and that of the modern Shaolin monks.
This does not mean form is not important in our teaching, but we do not learn a set because of its forms. Rather, we employ typical Shaolin kungfu forms for combat application as well as for internal force training. In other words, to us form is a means, whereas to the modern monks from Songshan, as far as we know, form is an end by itself. This is another crucial difference.
A third difference concerns sparring. As revealed from their official webpages, sparring (or “san shou” in Chinese) taught by modern Shaolin monks resembles Western Boxing and Kickboxing, whereas we at Shaolin Wahnam use traditional Shaolin forms in our sparring.
Incidentally, this reveals a crucial difference in beleif and approach. To the modern monks from Songshan (as well as to many other kungfu schools), a kungfu set comes first, from which students learn kungfu techniques. In sparring they think of which techniques or patterns to use. Their progression is from sets to patterns to sparring. Because they may not be fast or spontaneous enough to come out with the appropriate patterns, they often resort to free-style fighting.
At Shaolin Wahnam the progression is reversed; it is from sparring to patterns to sets. This progression was not done by us. We are very lucky to inherit the tradition passed down by generations of masters. At first there was fighting. From millions of millions of real fights, effective combat technqiues evolved and were stylized as patterns. Appropriate sequences of patterns were formulated into sets. Hence, in our case we learn sparring first and kungfu sets last. Our kungfu sets are the result of our systematic training to emulate the ways Shaolin masters fought in the past.
Because our combat training is methodical, we can use our Shaolin forms spontaneously in our sparring. In other words, when an opponent punches or kicks us, or attacks us in any manner, we do not start to think of which pattern from our kungfu sets we should bring out to use; we spontaneously response to the attacks in the ways we have been systematically trained.
Another crucial difference concerns force training. We pay a lot of attention to force training, whereas the modern monks from Songshan pay a lot of attention to form practice. Our force training is mainly internal involving the training of energy and mind, whereas that of the modern monks is mainly external like push-ups, running and hitting sandbags.
A fifth crucial difference concerns philosophy. We are very clear on why and how we practice our Shaolin Wahnam arts. To us it is a comprehensive programme to develop ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually so as to make life meaningful for ourselves and for others. I am not sure of the philosophy of the modern monks from Songshan, though they emphasize the teaching of “Chan”.
“Chan” or Zen is also of utmost importance to us at Shaolin Wahnam. But our approach and that of the modern Shaolin monks are different. In a nutshell, we practice Zen in our arts and daily life, like being simple, direct and effective, whereas the modern monks study Chan like discovering deeper meanings of Chan teaching in their kungfu movements.
Yesterday I held the Horse-Riding Stance for the first time for 5 minutes without coming up or changing position and I have done it again twice. This feat has only taken me 4 days, so I feel I must be doing it wrong. I do not find it easy by any means and I only achieve it by occasionally changing my hand position to around my dan tian so as to take my mind from the strain.
— Paul, USA
While it is not impossible, it is unlikely for someone beginning to learn the Horse-Riding Stance, to be able to remain at it correctly for 5 minutes. Hence, it is quite likely that you have done it incorrectly. An important requirement for stance training is to be relaxed — physically as well as mentally. If you had to change your hand position to avoid mental strain, it indicated that you were not mentally relaxed.
The most common mistake beginners make when performing the Horse-Riding Stance is to be tensed, although they think they are relaxed. But if you could remain at the stance, albeit incorrectly, for 5 minutes, it was unlikely you were physically tensed. Your most likely mistake was that you did not sit low enough for the stance.
Remaining at the stance for 5 minutes is a useful guideline for how long you should practice. But it is not the aim of the practice itself. The aim is to develop internal force. Hence, a good way to tell whether you have practiced the Horse-Riding Stance correctly is to assess how well you have achieved your aim.
How did you feel at the completion of your stance training? Did you feel fresh, energized and full of vitality? Did you feel your arms were heavier, and you were more solid? Did you have an unmistakable feeling you had developed internal force? If you had these indications, you had done well, irrespective of whether you could remain at the stance for a minute or 5 minutes, and irrespective of whether you had practiced for 4 days or 4 months.
This principle of measuring the success or otherwise of one's training with reference to his set aims or objectives, is applicable to other disciplines. Someone may practice kungfu or read law for 20 years, but if he still cannot defend himself or has not graduated with a degree — the basic aims of the endeavour — he would have wasted his time. On the other hand, if he has practiced kungfu or read law for two years, and is combat efficient or has obtained his degree, he would have done remarkably well.
Is it advisable to be able to sit in the stance comfortably for 5 minutes or just to sit for the time regardless of shaky legs and necessary distractions such as opening and closing eyes, changing hand position etc?
It is better to progress gradually. Sit at the stance comfortably for as long as you can, which for most beginners may range from a few seconds to a minute. Occasionally your legs may shake, your mind may be distracted and your body may ache, but on the whole you are quite comfortable. Gradually increase the time of your training until you can remain comfortable at the stance for 5 minutes. This will normally take a few months of daily training.
It is inadvisable to rush. If your ability is sitting at the stance comfortably for a minute, but through sheer endurance you push yourself to sit for 5 minutes, not only you may not achieve benefits like mental freshness and internal force, you may also harm yourself.
Whether I move on from Horse-Riding tomorrow or next month, would it be advisable to begin learning the “Black Tiger Steals Heart” pattern whilst maintaining stretch exercises once the Horse-Riding Stance is mastered?
It is wise to practice leg stretching exercises while you are still training your stance. This is maintaining yin-yang harmony, and will enable you to be agile as well as powerful at the same time.
It is advisable to begin learning “Black Tiger Steals Heart” and other basic patterns after you have developed some internal force as well as flexibility as the result of your stance training and leg stretching. But continue your stance training and leg stretching even when you have learned many patterns.
My partner made me a big gift last Eastern: by giving me your book, “The Art of Chi Kung”. It was a beautiful and important reading for me. I started to practice two of the exercises and Abdominal Breathing too, twice per day and this helps me very much!
— Francesca, Italy
I am much flattered that some people have kindly regarded my book, “The Art of Chi Kung” as a chi kung bible. It provides a comprehensive survey of the history, philosophy and practices of chi kung.
Learning from my books, understandably, is very different from learning from me personally. But you can still get a lot of benefits by practicing the chi kung exercises I have explained in my books. Practicing just one or two exercises instead of many, is wise. You will get more benefits this way. Personally I would suggest “Lifting the Sky” and “Carrying the Moon”.
On the other hand, I would advise that you leave out Abdominal Breathing. This is an advanced exercise, and may cause harmful effects if practiced incorrectly. Although it looks simple, it is easy for those learning from books to practice this exercise wrongly.
I was so disappointed and sad that I missed your course in Italy on May. I can't forgive myself not to think of looking for your web site before! Are you planning to come again to my country soon?
I visit and teach in Italy once a year, usually in May. I stay and teach at Punta Est in Finale Ligure along the Mediterranean coast near the French boarder. It is the most beautiful hotel I have been to, and due to my frequent travels I have been to many hotels all over the world. I would like to visit your country more often, but due to my tight schedule, this may not be easy.
I am glad you have found my website. You can find a lot of information there. Perhaps you will also take part in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum found at the website.
There is a master at my place. Do you know him? Is he a good and serious person? I dont like to train with cheaters but unfortunately one can't tell. I hope strongly to participate in your course very soon.
I do not know the master you mentioned, and cannot tell whether what he teaches is genuine chi kung. But you can find out for yourself if you answer the following questions.
Do his students have any energy experiences? If he or they do not know what energy experiences are, it means they have no such experiences. If they have, they will know them. It is like eating an apple. If you have eaten an apple, you will know you have eaten one.
Some examples of energy experiences are as follows: tingling effects at the finger tips, the body becoming pleasantly warm, feeling that the hands have become bigger or charged with energy, feeling of electric currents or streams of warm water flowing over the body, feeling your mind or spirit expanding.
Another telling question is whether his students have obtained the benefits that practicing chi kung is reputed to give. Some examples are as follows: feeling relaxed and focused, feeling happy and peaceful, have vitality for work and play, sleep better and eat well, mentally fresh and alert.
My background is Hung Kuen. I must say that reading your books has greatly enhanced my development. I practice “Golden Bridge” for 9 minutes, adding 1 minute per month. In “Pushing Mountains” I push my hands out for 5 minutes, palms out for 5 minutes, palms facing the sky for 5 minutes, then palms under armpits for 5 minutes. Then I flick my fingers 250 repetitions, clench my fists 250 repetitions, then thumbs up 250 repetitions, then lifting body on toes 150 repetitions, then “Small Universe”. Is this OK?
— Jeff, USA
No, this is not OK. Even if you were to practice all the exercises “correctly”, you are going to hurt yourself badly if you persist in this training programme. Why? The main reason is that you over-train excessively.
In my books, I mention that exercises from Sinew Metamorphosis like “Flicking Fingers” and “Clenching Fists” are to be performed 49 times, but you perform 250 times! Over-training is a very serious error in kungfu. It will weaken, instead of strengthen, your internal organs and systems, and lead to serious internal injury that conventional medicine does not understand.
You may be interested to know that students in my Sinew Metamorphosis classes flicked their fingers just three times, yet virtually everyone reported a feeling of tremendous internal force as a result of his training. Then, why do I recommend 49 times for readers of my books?
49 is the standard number of repetitions for Sinew Metamorphosis exercises taught at the Shaolin Temple in the past. But the more important reason is that because book readers miss the tremendous advantage of heart to heart transmission obtainable only from learning personally from a master, they have to compensate, albeit in a low level way, quantity for quality. In other words, they have to train more — but benefit less.
But why did my students flicked their fingers only 3 times instead of 49 like Shaolin monks in the past did when learning directly from their master. The standards were different. Shaolin monks in the past had much higher standard than us. But they also did not start straight away with 49 times. They started with a lower figure, then gradually worked their way up to 49 repetitions. If modern practitioners beginning Sinew Metamorphosis correctly, start with 49 repetitions, the force generated will be too tremendous for them.
“Small Universe” is another advanced and powerful exercise. It is advisable to practice it under the supervision of a master or at least a competent instructor.
When you are learning from books, it is best that you only focus on Golden Bridge — like the way you have described — and forget about the other exercises. You will get more benefits this way. It is interesting that in chi kung training, less is often better.