September 2003 (Part 2)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I am truly thankful to be able to ask you a question as in my heart it feels like you are my second master. I am 19 years old and first discovered qigong after coming out of my bad run with life. I used to have a “live hard, die young” attitude and I hanged around with the wrong crowd doing drugs and staying up to all hours of the night. The suffering I had induced upon myself almost took my life to an early end when God picked me up and dusted me off for a second chance at life. I found a rare treasure in a great Emei master in such likeness of yourself.
— Edward, Australia
I would like to share with you one of the best pieces of advice I learned when I was about your age, and that is “Greatness lies not in never falling, but in rising after every fall”.
We are humans, not gods. Even gods made mistakes, humans are of course much weaker. The Greek and Roman gods, for example, quarreled and fought among themselves.
One of the greatest Chinese gods, the Monkey God, ransacked heaven, and even the heavenly generals and armies could not subdue him. In order to make peace with the Monkey God, the Jade Emperor of heaven bestowed upon him the glamorous title “Great Sage Equal to Heaven”. However, discovering that this was only an honorary empty title with no real power, the Monkey God attacked heaven again, but finally he was subdued by the Buddha and was pinned beneath the “Five-Finger Mountain” for 500 years.
Eventually when the great monk Xuan Zang, or the Tripitaka, passed the “Five-Finger Mountain” on his way from China to India to acquire Buddhist scriptures, he released the Monkey God, who became the monk's disciple. The Monkey God protected the great monk, subdued numerous titans, monsters and evil spirits, and eventually brought back Buddhist scriptures from India to China to be translated into Chinese. Finally the Monkey God attained the greatest achievement any being can attain, i.e. attaining perfect Enlightenment.
The Monkey God is special to me. He is the personal god of my master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. The Monkey God was the one who initiated my master into Buddhism. At first my master, who was a professional Muai Thai champion, was a die-hard skeptic, regarding all things religious and spiritual as superstitious. But, despite himself, he was often drawn by invisible force back to his house, which later acted as a temple, to give consultation and healing to people in need. My master told me he knew the calling each time it occurred, and each time he tried his best to run away, but strangely and inexplicably he always found himself back in his house, where there were people waiting for his help.
I did not have the opportunity to witness my master acting as a medium for the Monkey God to help others, but I had the opportunity to witness many times my master acting for another divine being, the Immortal Li. This was because by the time I learned Shaolin Kungfu at my master's house, the Monkey God had “retired” from active service, though he often visited our training place to bless us. Each time he came, we knew for he always announced his arrival with a distinctive sound. We would all stop our training, offered a joss stick, and knelt down to receive his blessings.
I had finally found the pure and holy fountain of water I had been looking for to quench my newly acquired spiritual thirst. What I say next I say in great shame. I practiced, practiced and practiced qigong sometimes for four hours a day. And I felt spiritually happy and contented with my life. Then my friends came calling me back. The thought of abandoning them made me go with them even though they were bad people, though I still see goodness in them. So I returned to the sins I committed with them. After I got sucked in to that kind of life again, I returned to qigong, and such is the cycles of life I go through.
There is a Chinese saying as follows (in Cantonese): “Long tzi wooi tau kam pat woon”, which means “When a sinner realizes his wrong and returns to moral living, one would not exchange him for his weight in gold”.
Your greatness lied in your realizing your previous wrong and your returning to normal, healthy life again. You were very lucky to meet a great Ermei master, and to practice qigong, experiencing inner peace and spiritual joy. Your weakness lied in your falling again. You were foolish to return to your former ways of sins with your bad company.
But do not despair. You are not lost yet. You still have hope. Avoid any bad company and return to your qigong practice.
Many people are amazed at the results they obtained at my courses, whether in Malaysia or in my regional classes. For example, in the recent regional Taijiquan course in Spain from 12th to 14th August 2003, students, including some fresh beginners, learned internal force, combat application and a 24-pattern Taijiquan set reasonably well within just three days.
One important reason for our rapid progress was that we employed the “principle of three mistakes”, which allowed a student to make the same mistake only three times. A student making the same mistake a fourth time would be spanked. Partly because they did not want to face the possibility of being publicly spanked, and mainly they took the principle to heart, all the students could “progress without retrogressing”, which was another important principle we adopted.
You have made the same mistake twice. According to my “principle of three mistakes”, you still have one more chance before you are publicly spanked. But, of course, don't make the same mistake three times; take the third chance as a safety precaution, not an allowance.
Turn away from any bad company and sins; return to your qigong practice and to normal, healthy living, and progress without retrogressing. You have more to lose if you fail, and more to gain if you succeed than my Taijiquan students. Sucked into a life of sins is much worse than being publicly spanked; experiencing inner peace and spiritual joy is more rewarding than having internal force, combat application and performing a Taijiquan set.
Everyone, including a sinner, has goodness in him. This is a cosmic truth taught in all great religious and spiritual teachings, such as Christianity and Buddhism. “Repent and accept Christ, and you will be saved.” This is guaranteed in Christian teaching. “Lay down your butcher's knife, and become a Buddha!” This is a Buddhist way of saying “leave behind your sins and return to moral living”. Other great religions say the same thing in different words.
If you join your bad friends in their evil ways, you are not helping them, you are only encouraging them to be sucked into a life of sins, suffering and self-depreciation. You are not being kind, you are being selfish — though you do not mean it and do not realize it. What you should do and can do is to share your new found treasure with them. Share with them the pure and holy fountain of water to cleanse their sins and quench their spiritual thirst. Teach them the qigong you practice, or better still introduce them to your master.
If initially they sneer at you and ridicule you, be patient and tolerant. Remember that the great Monkey God waited for 500 years before he found the pure and holy fountain of water to quench his spiritual thirst. Your friends would need some time before they could appreciate the treasure you are willing to share with them.
How I wish I could find a temple and dedicate my life to be a monk although I know it cannot be like this. I dropped out of my martial arts classes with my master as I knew he could sense the unrest and turmoil of my evil ways constantly re-emerging in my life. So I feel shameful and have not returned. I don't feel comfortable telling him my problem as he is not fluent in English and I am afraid he might think I am being disrespectful.
The real temple where you will find God, the Buddha or any name one may use to call the Supreme Being according to his religion or culture, is found in your heart. The fulfillment of all religions is here.
God, or whatever name one may call the Supreme Being, wants everybody to be happy, healthy and rich. God does not want anyone to be sad, sick and poor. Appreciating this great truth enables one to realize it is a big mistake to think one has to be poor and suffering to reach God or to attain any spiritual fulfillment. It is just the reverse!
Why, then, are some people sick, poor and suffering? Has God forsaken them? Of course not. God is fair and kind to all. Some people are sick, poor and suffering not because God does not bestow His blessings on them, but because they themselves block God's blessings. Their blockage can be physical, emotional or mental.
The most serious is mental blockage. In Chinese terms, these people have closed their heart. If they open their heart, they can find not only the temple and God's blessings, they may also find God himself. There are many ways to open the heart; practicing genuine chi kung is an excellent way.
You are very lucky to have learnt genuine chi kung from your master. Therefore, your heart was open, and you experienced inner peace and spiritual joy, which are two of the wonderful blessings of God. But when you returned to your bad company and bad ways, your heart closed again.
You must not only avoid evil company and evil deeds, but most important you must not think of evil, because evil is dirt or defilement that blocks your heart. An example of evil thought is to think that your master would abandon you and not help you to get out of your evil ways. You must change your heart, which in simple language means you must change your mind-set.
From thinking that your master and other good people will despise you, you have to change your mind-set to thinking that your master and other good people will help you. From thinking that you cannot get out of your evil ways, you must change your mind-set to thinking that you will definitely leave your previously evil ways and lead a normal, healthy life. From feeling ashamed of yourself because of your past wrong, you must change to feeling proud of yourself because of your determination to rise up again.
Even if for some reasons, your master and other people cannot help you directly, you have to help yourself. The most important step is to change your mind-set from surrendering to evil to working towards good. In other words, you change your heart from dwelling in your gloomy past to working towards your bright future. Once your heart, or mind-set, is changed for the better, the rest will follow.
It also has taken me some time to muster the courage to send you this e-mail as I know you are a qigong and martial arts grandmaster, not a psychologist. I feel I have brought great dishonour upon these arts and have insulted them time after time. As you might imagine I feel greatly troubled as after being given the treasure of being able to craft God a wonderful gift I have found that I am too weak to be able to do so. I know this is only temporary though and once I learn how to use what I have learnt to do away with these dark spiritual forces trying to control my life it would be an honour of one day becoming your pupil, Master.
Not only you have the courage to write to me, you also have done so respectfully. Showing respect to others is a sign of self-respect. In your case especially, having self-respect is crucial. Having self-respect is a clear indication that you are not beyond redemption.
More importantly, you have an awareness of God. Those who are beyond redemption not only spite themselves, they also spite God. You still have a good chance to craft God a wonderful gift.
As long as you have life, you have strength. And I am going to teach you two simple but very effective methods to increase your strength.
Recite the following mantra three times aloud, softly or in your heart.
Then earnestly ask Guan Shi Yin Bodh Satt, or the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, for strength and guidance.
Alternatively, you may pray to God and ask Him for strength and guidance. If you pray sincerely, your prayer will always be answered.
Do this once in the morning and once in the evening or at night.
Then practice a chi kung exercise called “Separating Water” as follows. Stand upright and be totally relaxed. Place both arms in front at shoulders' level, with the arms straight, the fingers of both hands pointing towards one another, and the palms facing forward. Gently separate both arms to both sides so that now the fingers point forward and the palms face both sides. Breathe in gently through the nose at the same time.
Then bring the arms close together again as in the starting position, with the fingers pointing toward one another, and the palms facing forward. Breathe out through the mouth at the same time. Keep both arms straight, both palms at right angle to the arms, and both arms at horizontal level with the shoulders at all times while separating the arms and bringing them together. Repeat the procedure about 10 times.
To complete the exercise, bring both arms to the sides, turn the palms to face downward, and gently lower the arms, breathing out through the mouth at the same time. Stand upright with the eyes gently close and be totally relaxed for a few minutes. Then rub the hands together, warm the eyes with the palms, open the eyes, massage the face, and walk about briskly.
Irrespective of whether you will learn from me later on, if you can leave behind your bad ways and return to normal, healthy life, I shall be proud of you. When you have done this, and feel peaceful and happy, send me an e-mail to let me know so that I can share your happiness.
What is the fighting purpose of raised finger or “one finger hand” in (a) blocking the opponents strike, like “leaning”: (b) internal strength training, like in “three pushes” or “saam jin sau” in Hung Ga sets.
— Pavel, Czech Republic
The “One-Finger Zen” hand form is seldom used for blocking, like in a “leaning” technique. Usually the “Tiger-Claw” or the open palm is used. If the “One-Finger Zen” hand form is used, its fighting purpose is an immediate counter-attack.
The index finger rarely points upward unless the counter-attack is to the throat beneath the chin. It usually points forward when it is aimed at other vital points. At an advanced level, the exponent does not need to block first. He “leans” his arm on the opponent's attacking arm, and simultaneously strikes the opponent's vital point with the “One-Finger Zen”.
On the other hand, “One-Finger Zen” is ofen used in internal force training. In our school, Shaolin Wahnam, “One-Finger Shooting Zen” is our fundamental force training method. The “One-Finger Zen” hand form is frequently used in force training methods like “Triple ‘Stretch” (“Sam Jin Sau”), “Left and Right Circulating of Soft Bridges” ("Chor Wen Yau Kiew” and “Yau Wen Yau Kiew”) and “Golden Bridge” (“Ding Kam Kiew”) in Southern Shaolin styles like Hoong Ka and Choy-Li-Fatt.
Its fighting purpose is to strike vital points. It is very effective in breaking through “Iron Shirt” and “Golden Bell”. However, the internal force developed from “One-Finger Zen” training is not only focused at the index fingers; it can be spread all over the body. Hence a palm strike or an arm block by an “One-Finger Zen” expert can be very powerful.
Can you briefly describe “Iron Thread Set” (“Tit Sin Khuen”) of Hung Ga Gung Fu, and its training principles and philosophy of “twelwe-bridge hands”, please?
"Iron Wire Set” or “Iron Thread Set” (“Tit Sin Khuen”) is one of the three treasures of Hoong Ka Kungfu, especially from Wong Fei Hoong's lineage, the other two being “Kung Tze Fok Fu Khuen” (“Taming the Tiger Set”) and “Fu Hiok Seong Yin Khuen” (“Tiger-Crane Double-Form Set”). It was said that if one mastered these three sets (including their internal force and combat application, of course), he could be invincible.
“Iron Wire Set” was reputed to be invented by the foremost of the Ten Kwangtung Tigers, Tit Kiew Sam. His “bridges” or arms were so powerful that when he placed them in front as in “Golden Bridge”, two buffaloes pulling at each side could not pull them apart.
The main principle in the internal force training of “Iron Wire Set” is to “consolidate” energy into essence. As a rough analogy it is like converting a stream into a glacier. The force developed is “hard” and internal, in contrast to “soft” and internal as in Taijiquan.
In channeling chi or energy, appropriate sounds are used, such as “herit”, “ho” and “ya”. These sounds also help to strengthen various internal organs.
A common mistake some practitioners make is to perform the qi channeling and jing consolidating exercise in “Iron Wire Set” as isometric exercise. They are quite different. In qi channeling and jing consolidating, the muscles are relaxed. What is involved is the training of energy, essence and mind.
In isometric exercise, the muscles are tensed, and the energy and mind are usually blocked. What is involved is physical exertion. Performing “Iron Wire Set” as isometric exercise can be harmful, whereas performing the set as an energy management exercise brings good health and vitality.
“Iron Wire Set” develops twelve types of internal force, enabling the exponent to have twelve “bridges” or arm techniques. These twelve types of “bridge force” are expressed in the following poetic couplet (in Cantonese):
Kong yow pik cheit fun ting chuin
Tai lau wan chai ding thien khuen
Literally translated word by word, they are as follows;
Hard soft press straight separate stable inch
Lift keep circulate control match the cosmos
As in most “poetic formulae” the words mean nothing to the uninitiated. Briefly the meaning is as follows.
“Hard” and “soft” refer to whether the internal force used in the various techniques is “hard” or “soft”.“Press” refers to pressing force on an opponent, as in continuous attacks. “Straight” refers to force in a straight movement, like a thrust-hand attack. “Separate” refers to force to dislodge from an opponent's grip or control. “Stable” refers to force that immobilizes the opponent. “Inch” refers to force executed in close quarters.
“Lift” refers to force to “float” an opponent's movement.“Keep” refers to force that holds on to the opponent, like placing a hand on his to sense his intention. “Circulate” refers to skill in channeling internal force to various parts of the body. “Control” refers to force to control or subdue an opponent, like preventing him from moving away.
“Match” refers to the skill to co-ordinate different uses of force at the same time.“Thien khuen” refer to the two trigrams which represent “heaven” and “earth”, and figuratively mean the cosmos. This concluding phrase suggests that if one applies the various types of internal force well, he can handle any situations.
It is helpful to know that actually there are not twelve different forces, but twelve main ways of applying the same internal force.Similarly, in Taijiquan there are eight different types of force, namely “peng” (ward-off), “lu” (roll-back), “qi” (press), “an” (push), “lie” (spread), “cai” (take), “zhao” (elbow) and “kao” (lean). Actually they are not eight different forces, but eight different ways of using the same force. In the same way, you may classify your income into household money, food money, accommodation money, entertainment money, etc, but it is the same money except it is used for different purposes.
I have seen the video clip on your website of your performance of the famous “Fifth Brother Eight-Trigram Staff” (Ng Long Pat Kua Khuan). Can you please describe briefly the history and key principles of this famous set? It is one of my most favorite weapons.
“Fifth Brother Eight-Trigram Staff”, or “Ng Long Pat Kua Khuan” in Chinese (Cantonese), is one of the most famous staff sets. It is a fundamental weapon set of Hoong Ka Kungfu.
It originated from Yeong Ng Long (“Yang Wu Lang” in Mandarin pronunciation), who was a famous general of the Song Dynasty. He and his six brothers together with their father who was a marshal, were very skilful in their spears. Collectively they were known as the Yeong (Yang) Family Generals, and their spear techniques known as Yeong (Yang) Family Spear.
Unfortunately, in a disastrous battle where they were ambushed, except him, his fourth brother and his sixth brother, all his brothers and his father were killed. Yeong Ng Long escaped to a Buddhist temple on Wutai Mountain where he became a monk. He continued to practice his spear.
In line with his newly found Buddhist philosophy of non-killing, he took off the spear-head and used only the spear shaft. Yeong Ng Long's spear set evolved into a staff set, and was passed on to the Shaolin tradition. It is now called “Ng Long Pat Kua Khuan”, or “Fifth Brother Eight-Trigram Staff”.
In our Shaolin Wahnam School, the philosophy of this staff set is expressed in the following verse (in Cantonese)
Tai khaik fun leong yi
Leong yi sung sei cheong
Sei cheong pin pat kua
Pat kua kwai yam yeong
It is translated as follows:
The cosmos separates into two spheres
Two spheres generate four forms
Four forms change to eight dimensions
Eight dimensions return to yin-yang
The terms above refer to staff techniques and combative skills. The verse may be briefly explained as follows.
The big circular sweep of the staff (represented as the cosmos above) is used to keep opponents at bay. Circular movements can be clockwise or anti-clockwise (represented as two spheres).
These two movements can manifest into four main techniques (represented as four forms) — “cover”, “”flick”, “”low sweep”, “reversed sweep” — which are effective for defending against any attacks from four cardinal directions.
There are eight major techniques for attack (represented as eight dimensions) — “dot”, “middle spear”, “low spear”, “cut”, “vibrate”, “circle”, “hit”, “squat”. All techniques and skills may be applied in a “hard” or a “soft” manner (represented as yin-yang).
I bought your wonderful book, “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”. In Chapter 5 you explain about the Three-Circle Stance to develop internal force. My shoulders are rather broad and when I try the stance, I get pains in both my shoulders. I try to lower my shoulders but then I feel that I'm not extending my arms far enough to do the stance properly. I experience the same thing while performing the Horse Riding Stance. Could you please help me with this problem?
— Ryan, South Africa
Presuming you are performing the physical form of the stances correctly, the pain is not due to your wide shoulders but to one or both of the following two reasons. You tense your shoulders when you practice the Three-Circle Stance and the Horse-Riding Stance, though you think you are relaxed. This is a very common problem. It is also one important reason why beginning students should learn personally from a living instructor.
The second cause of your pain is energy blockage that already exists at your shoulders or at some related parts of your body. The energy developed from your stance training, pushes against the blockage, causing pain.
Of course, if your form is incorrect, such as you raise your shoulders or you lean too far forward or backward, logically you have to correct your form.
It is better for you to solve these two problems before attempting stance training. A wonderful exercise that can help you to solve both problems at the same time is “Lifting the Sky”.
Learn this chi kung exercise from a competent instructor or from one of my books. Practice it daily for about three months. This will help you to relax more easily and, unless your energy blockage is deep rooted, also clear your blockage sufficiently for you to practice your stances with no pain.
Only then should you practice the Three-Circle Stance or the Horse-riding Stance seriously. You will have better result this way than rushing into stance training when you are still blocked and tensed. This is an example of “starting later but arriving earlier”, an important Tai Chi Chuan principle that is applicable to normal living besides to combat.