June 2004 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
My Baguazhang teacher also emphasizes the health aspect of Baguazhang and insists on a solid foundation of basic training (lots of walking) but almost nothing in the way of application training. As such, I have little understanding of training or applying Baguazhang as a martial art.
— Leong, Australia
This is the norm today in all styles of kungfu. Some schools attempt free sparring with Boxing, Kickboxing, Taekwondo and other martial art techniques. We in Shaolin Wahnam are the very, very few schools in the world today that believe in and actually use typical kungfu forms for sparring (in both our Shaolin and Taijiquan training).
It is a shameful irony. It is only logical that if one practices kungfu, he uses kungfu techniques in sparring and fighting, just as if one trains football, he uses football techniques in a football match, not hockey, rugby or badminton techniques! Yet, using typical kungfu forms in sparring or fighting is so rare today that many people believe it is not possible.
If a wrestler grabs the legs of a kungfu exponent for a tackle, for example, they argue that it is not possible for the kungfu exponent to dislocate the wrestler's arm or break his spine with a powerful strike. We had some interesting debate on this in our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum. Worse, some well known kungfu masters, whom the world look up to as authority, advocate that kungfu forms only teach principles, when come to sparring or fighting, one has to use Boxing or Kickboxing!
In our effort to prevent genuine traditional kungfu from degrading into children's fighting, we have posted many webpages on combat application using typical Shaolin and Taijiquan forms. We know that these kungfu forms are effective in combat, not just because we have read about their effectiveness in kungfu classics, but because we have actually used them in our sparring and fighting. I must also add that knowing the forms alone is inadequate, one must also have relevant combat skills.
The reasons why I illustrate combat application with mainly Shaolin and Taijiquan forms, and sometimes with Wing Choon forms, and not with forms from Baguazhang, Xingyiquan and other kungfu styles, is because it is our policy to speak from direct experience. All the techniques we use for illustrations are those that we can apply, and in some cases actually applied in real situations, reasonably well
I have received some requests to illustrate Baguazhang combat application. I have not done so because although I have studied it in some details (mainly by studying Baguazhang classics), I have not practiced it or consciously used it in combat.
Nevertheless, I have some invaluable literature on Baguazhang principles and combat. I also have a hand-written explanation and illustrations on the “Sixty Four Fundamental Combat Applications of Baguazhang” specially prepared for me by Sifu Wong Chong Ling, a well known Baguazhang master from Hong Kong. I also knew another well known Baguazhang master in Malaysia, Sifu Leong Swee Lun, as a personal friend, with whom I often discussed kungfu. He showed me some intricate Baguazhang movements for combat. In fact I persuaded him to publish a book on Baguazhang, but sadly he passed away before attempting the task.
Baguazhang is a beautiful martial art. I shall try to retrieve the invaluable Baguazhang literature of the masters, which is now lost somewhere in my house, and enact the combat applications which the Baguazhang masters themselves described. In this way I hope I can contribute a small part to the efforts of existing Baguazhang masters today in various parts of the world in preserving their wonderful art.
My primary Baguazhang training is standing at the Single Change Palm posture for about two minutes each side (alternating with Santi on other days), half an hour of slow “circle walking” gently getting my waist to twist as far as it comfortably can towards the centre of the circle, a hundred slow repetitions of “chuan zhang” (piercing palm) and “ta zhang” on each side (especially the left), gently thinking of the fingertips (for chuan zhang) and palms (for ta zhang) softly pushing the air away from my body as I extend the palms from the waist. I dare not train the palm exercises as “fajing” drills until my shoulder completely recovers.
Except for the lack of combat application, the content of your training is good. But the problem is not the content but the methodology. In other words it is not “what” you train but “how” you train that is crucial for your progress. Basically you practice Baguazhang as an external exercise rather than an internal art.
How do I know when I have not seen your training? Actually it is very simple. Had you trained Baguazhang as an internal art, you would not have raised the issues you did, and you would also have recovered from your shoulder injury.
It is difficult to learn the methodology of internal training from written instructions. What I describe in words is also probably what you have been doing technically, but not skillfully. It is best if you attend my Intensive Taijiquan Course. You will then learn the skills of internal training which you can transfer to Baguazhang. However, the problem is that now I am not offering this Intensive Taijiquan Course, unless there are sufficient people who want it.
You can attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course. The skills in internal training are similar, though the technical methods are different. For example, you can use the same skills you learn in Golden Bridge in Shaolin Kungfu to apply to Santi Stance or Single Change Palm in Baguazhang. I would like you to learn the necessary skills, then use them in Baguazhang, train hard to become a master and promote Baguazhang as a great internal martial art. It would be a great pity if it is lost to humanity.
Alternatively you can contact my disciple, Jeffrey Segal, who will teach Wahnam Taijiquan in Melbourne, and arrange some training sessions with him. Right now he is traveling over Asia to gain experience. You can check up his e-mail address in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum. You can be sure that he will be glad to help you. It is our Shaolin Wahnam policy to help deserving seekers to preserve genuine kungfu, irrespective of whether they practice our Shaolin Wahnam arts.
Nevertheless, I shall briefly describe how you should approach internal training. There are three crucial points, or secrets, as follows.
- Internal training involves the training of energy and mind. Physical forms are the means.
- Be totally relaxed and enter into a meditative state of mind.
- Do not use muscular strength. Repeat: do not use muscular strength. This third point is hard for many people to appreciate.
If you succeed in “Flowing Breeze and Swaying Willows” explained in Answer 4 of Questions-Answers Series June 2004 Part 2, you will have an excellent introduction to internal force training. It will give you an idea how you should train, even though the techniques may be different.
I would suggest you cut your “circle walking” from half an hour to just five minutes. What you did was half an hour of mechanical walking. Now practice five minutes of chi kung walking. Put into practice the three crucial points I mentioned above. For example, when you move a foot, do not use muscular strength. At advanced levels, practitioners use their mind to move their energy to move their foot. You would not be able to do this yet. A simpler method is to move your foot as if effortlessly.
When you settle into your stance after moving your foot, you should not feel any muscular tension, especially at your calves. You settle down not because you physically lower your body but because your chi settles at your dan tian, similar to what you did in your stance training. This will be difficult at first. But if you know what to do and practice diligently, you will eventually attain the skills.
I would suggest postponing your “chuan zhang” (piercing palm) and “ta zhang” (striking palm) training until you have developed sufficient internal force at your dan tian. You should also not train “fajing” (exploding force) now, not just because of your shoulder injury, but because there is not much internal force at your dan tian at present for you to explode to your palms.
You should focus on zhan zhuang to develop internal force. You should gradually increase your zhan zhuang from about two minutes to fifteen minutes or more. I am going to give you a Baguazhang secret that many Baguazhang practitioners today may not know. The most important stances for zhan zhuang in Baguazhang are the eight Bagua Palm postures.
You start with Single Change Palm. When you cannot stand at the stance further, move to Double Change Palm, and so on until you complete all the eight postures. It is walking the Bagua circle in stance forms.
Stance training will give you solidness and internal force. But you must not neglect agility, for which Baguazhang is famous. I am going to give you another secret, the secret of agility training in Baguazhang.
Depending on your developmental stage, when you train walking the Bagua circle in stance forms, where you remain at one stance form for some time, you may take fifteen minutes to an hour. This is employing the Bagua circle for zhan zhuang to develop internal force. Now you employ the Bagua circle to use your internal force for agility training, as follows.
Move from one stance form to another without stopping to complete the eight Bagua Palm postures. Your forms must be correct, and your movements must be fluid and elegant. You should not use your muscles to move. Then, how do you move? Use your mind to move your energy to move your forms. As mentioned earlier, you would probably be unable to do this yet. A simpler method is to move without any effort.
At first do not worry about speed. Move leisurely and effortlessly in a chi kung state of mind. Remember that you must not use any muscular strength. But your forms must be correct, and your movement fluid and elegant. Initially you may take a few minutes to complete one circle. Gradually increase your speed so that you can do so flowingly and elegantly in a few seconds. You may introduce variations in your circle walking, such as changing from right to left mode, changing directions, or changing the order of the stance forms.
When you can perform this Bagua circle walking exercise quite well, which will take at least a few months, you can progress to another agility exercise, which is similar to the “Art of Going through Woods” described in my book, “The Complete Book of Shaolin”. In the past, Baguazhang practitioners used poles driven into the ground for this exercise. But this may not be feasible in today's society.
An alternative is to place inverted bowls in a plum flower position or in a bagua (octagonal) position. Move about agilely and elegantly using the eight Bagua Palm forms or other Baguazhang patterns in between the bowls without touching the bowls. Your movements must be both agile and forceful — using internal force and not muscular strength.
Because the standard of kungfu today is so low, if you train daily for three years you would attain a standard of force or skills that surpass those of many “masters” today. But you still cannot fight effectively because you have not practiced combat application. In Chinese terms, you have “gong” (force) but not “yong” (application). To be proficient in “yong' or combat application, you have to see me for practical explanation or wait for my illustration in my webpages. Then you have to practice, practice and practice with a sparring partner.
I read your sample weekly training timetable for training Taijiquan as a martial art in your latest selection of questions and answers, February 2004 (Part 3). I was wondering if you could please suggest a similar programme for Baguazhang.
You can use the same three programmes but substituting Baguazhang techniques for Taijiquan techniques.
But I shall give you another training programme from a different perspective. This programme is for dedicated Baguazhang practitioners who are willing to work hard.
Divide your training schedule into four aspects, namely form practice, force training, combat application, and philosophical studies.
Allot about 5% of your training time for form practice. As mentioned in the other three programmes, when you use forms to develop internal force, to practice combat application, or to apply certain principles, such training is not counted as form practice.
A special feature of Baguazhang is that originally there were no kungfu sets! There were eight fundamental palm movements, each with eight variations, making a total of sixty four fundamental sequences. However, for the sake of their students, some Baguazhang masters later combined these sequences in different order, or composed new sequences into Baguazhang sets. The two most famous sets are “Swimming Dragon Bagua Palm” and “Bagua Circulating-Body Palm”, both of which have a few versions.
If you have a Baguazhang set, perform it for form practice, otherwise perform various Baguazhang sequences. The main objectives are to have correct forms spontaneously so that you can derive the best technical advantages from the forms, and to move from one form to another fluidly.
Allot about 40% of your training time for force training. Walking the Bagua circle for stance training, and walking the Bagua circle for agility training are two important methods.
Also allot about 40% of your training time for combat application. Start with one-step pre-arranged sparring, then three-step pre-arranged sparring. Progress to sequence sparring and gradually to free sparring. It is also important to practice on your own with an imaginary opponent. At advanced levels, practice defence against armed and multiple opponents.
Allot about 15% of your training time for philosophical studies. Read up good literature on Baguazhang, as well as distinguish the rubbish from the valuable. For example, a Western Baguazhang master in recent times converted the traditional circular movements in Baguazhang into linear movements in his self-invented style. Do you think it is an improvement or a degradation?
I've been studying Aikido for about six to seven years (averaging an hour a day) and according to my limited exposure it appears that many Baguazhang techniques are similar to Aikido in application. In a pinch I resort to employing Baguazhang techniques using Aikido principles. I do not know if this is the correct approach. How can I train Baguazhang as a martial art?
No, Aikido and Baguazhang are very different in both principles and techniques. The apparent similarity is that both arts use circular movements, but deeper examination will show that they are different.
In principles, Aikido exploits body mechanics, momentum and leverage, whereas Baguazhang uses agile stances, flexible body movement and internal force. In techniques, the hallmarks of Aikido are locks and throws, whereas locks and throws are rare in Baguazhang where the palm strike using internal force is famous.
If an assailant attacks with a dagger thrust, for example, an Aikido exponent would side step, grip the assailant's attacking wrist with both hands, move back slightly to follow the attacking momentum, then bend the wrist backward in an arc to dislocate it.
A typical response form a Baguazhang exponent is totally different. He would not move his feet, but swerve his body in an arc to avoid the dagger thrust, and simultaneously use Single Change Palm (similar to the mirror-hand in Shaolin Kungfu and the “peng” technique in Taijiquan) to deflect the direction of the attack, continue the same movement with a palm strike at close quarters at the assailant's chest.
In the different responses to the same attack, the Aikido exponent would need three movements using leverage to dislocate the assailant's wrist, whereas the Baguazhang exponent uses just one movement to kill or seriously injure the assailant with internal force. Aikido is a sport, whereas Baguazhang is a deadly fighting art.
You mentioned “a pinch” in your question. I wonder if you meant a punch or a grip. Punches are not used in Baguazhang and Aikido. Grips are seldom used in Baguazhang but frequently in Aikido.
But irrespective of whether you employ a pinch, a punch, a grip or any technique of one art, you should use the principles of that art. If you use the principles of another art, you are not taking full advantages of that art. This is only logical, because the principles of an art are derived from the practical application of its techniques over many years or centuries.
Moreover the principles and techniques of Baguazhang and Aikido are very different. Using Aikido principles to apply Baguazhang techniques, or vice versa, is like using tennis principles to play basketball.
Baguazhang is a martial art. As soon as you train Baguazhang (correctly) you are training a martial art. If you train it incorrectly, you may be training gymnastics, health exercise or a dance. The two essential aspects of Baguazhang or any genuine traditional kungfu are force training and combat application. In other words, if you want to train Baguazhang as a martial art, you must develop internal force and be able to apply Baguazhang forms for combat.
I will be starting qigong with a qigong school in Singapore. I noticed that the Chief Instructor has quite listless eyes. From your website, I learn that those who have attended your courses are filled with vitality and zest. Shouldn't a qigong practitioner have lively sparkling eyes? Please pardon me if I am making a silly assumption.
— Christopher, Singapore
The eyes are the windows of the soul. This expression is not only poetically but also factually true. By looking at a person's eyes, a kungfu master or a Chinese physician can have a good idea of that person's health and vitality. Sparkling eyes indicate that he has good health and vitality, listless eyes indicate their lack.
Yes, a qigong practitioner should have lively, sparkling eyes. “Should” is a negative word. It suggests that some qigong practitioners should, but actually don't have lively, sparkling eyes. One main reason is that they have practiced qigong wrongly.
Another reason is that they do not really practice qigong, though they honestly think they do. Actually they only practice external qigong forms. A third reason is that they have mis-used the internal force developed from their qigong practice. This seems to be the case with the Chief Instructor you mentioned.
He and other instructors demonstrated some qigong feats like breaking bricks with just a tap (he called it internal jing) and pressing sharp objects against their bodies. I tested all the bricks and weapons myself so I am sure they were not tricks.
However, when he demonstrated his Repulsive Force (several senior students attacked him with internal force and all got repulsed and thrown back), he was visibly panting. Also, after he performed a Taiji set, he was also panting. He said he had exerted a lot of internal qi doing these.
In my ignorance I do not know whether this is correct. You have described your kungfu students as feeling more energetic after a session rather than exhausted. By comparison, I am not sure if this Chief Instructor is a true master.
Internal force performs three important functions, namely to maintain life, to enhance life, and to produce better results whatever is attempted. The Chief Instructor and the other instructors chose to use the internal force derived from their qigong training for the third function, i.e. to break bricks, to withstand sharp objects against their bodies, and to repulse attackers. And they did them impressively.
In our school Shaolin Wahnam, although we could also use our internal force to break bricks and repulse attacks, we choose to use our internal force primarily for maintaining life and enhancing life.
Hence, for those who are in pain or sick, the internal force derived from qigong training is first used to overcome their health problems so that they will be free from pain and illness. Then the energy from internal force nourishes their organs and systems so that they have excellent health. This is the function of maintaining life. This also explains why our students have sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks.
Next, our internal force is used to enhance life. This can be manifested in countless ways. For example, previously when our students were caught in a traffic jam, they were impatient and grumpy, now they sit back and watch life pass. Previously, when they returned home after work, they were dead tired, now they still have energy to enjoy the evening with their family.
My kungfu students feel more energetic after their training sessions because we practice our kungfu (both Shaolin and Taijiquan) not as external kungfu forms but as qigong. In other words, we use our kungfu forms not just for combat but as techniques to enhance our energy flow and increase our energy volume, just like other techniques such as “Lifting the Sky” and Abdominal Breathing. We also regulate our breathing so that even though our movements are fast and vigorous, our breathing remains deep and slow. In this way, we do not pant for breath after a set practice, sparring or any performance.
The Chief Instructor you mentioned is a true master of his art. But his philosophy, training methods and applications of his art are different from ours. He has a lot of internal force, but he channels it for demonstrations, with little energy left to nourish his internal organs. Hence, his eyes are listless. He probably does not know how to co-ordinate his breathing with his movements in his Taiji demonstration. Hence he was panting.
I would like to thank you for offering the Qigong intensive course. The focus of your course seems to be on health. If I want to focus on combat efficiency, would the course have the same benefits or would the Gongfu course be better? Of course, I also desire to have good health through Qigong.
Although there are similarities, the objectives of my Intensive Chi Kung (Qigong) Course and of my Intensive Kungfu (Gongfu) Courses are different. The chi kung course provides participants with fundamental skills and techniques to relax, attain a one-pointed mind, and generate energy flow for health and vitality. The kungfu course provides participants with fundamental skills to develop internal force and to use typical kungfu patterns for combat.
While essential requirements for combat efficiency like abundant energy and mental clarity are acquired in the chi kung course, the actual application of techniques for combat is not taught. Hence, if you wish to learn how to use Shaolin or Taijiquan patterns for combat, you will not find it in my chi kung course. You would have to take my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course or my Intensive Taijiquan Course for this purpose.
But this does not necessarily mean that the Intensive Chi Kung Course is not useful for combat efficiency. Skills like focusing the mind, directing energy to flow to particular parts of the body, and using mind and not muscular tension to generate force, which are emphasized in the chi kung course, are extremely useful for combat efficiency.
If all other things were equal, a person who has taken my Intensive Chi Kung Course before taking my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course or my Intensive Taijiquan Course, will be a better martial artist than another person who only takes my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course or Intensive Taijiuqan Course. Nevertheless, to save cost, those interested in combat efficiency may straightaway attend my Shaolin or Taijiquan course, without having to attend my chi kung course.
They will also attain excellent health from my Shaolin and Taijiquan courses. Our Shaolin Wahnam philosophy is excellent for health first, then combat efficiency. This is also logical.
Those who are fit but not healthy, like many external martial artists are, may still become very good fighters. But if they aim for the highest level in combat efficiency, they must have excellent health, not only physically but also emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Someone who is very powerful and can apply effective fighting techniques, but sustains internal injury, is aggressive in disposition, harbours hatred towards his opponent, or is angry at himself — which are examples of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual illness — cannot attain the highest level of martial art.
As I have a family, I think it is possible that I may skip a couple of qigong practices every day. For instance, I kept vigil by my baby when he was sick for 2 days. If after I learnt qigong but have to skip some practices, would this affect my progress?
It is alright if you miss a practice session once a while if your practice is regular on the whole. If for some reasons you have to skip your training for a few days, the effect on your progress is marginal and can be rectified once you continue your training regularly.
It is detrimental only when the stoppage is of a long period, like many weeks or many months. If the stoppage is too long, the student may have lost all his accumulated effect, and may have to start from scratch.
If it is not convenient to practice formally, one may practices informally. For example, while standing in line in a queue or sitting on a seat in a bus or a plane, he can gently think of chi flowing down his body. If he is standing, he can sway gently in a chi flow. Of course, he must be able to generate a chi flow in the first place. If his “qigong” merely consists of external gentle exercise, he would be unable to have such informal practice.
While looking after your baby when he is asleep, you can practice qigong formally or informally. If you gently think of your baby during your practice, the benefit from your qigong practice can be transferred to him! Many people will find this incredible or crazy, but it is true.
Having a family should prompt you to rather than deter you from practicing qigong. Having a family calls for more responsibility. Practicing qigong provides you with more energy and mental freshness to provide better for your family. Moreover, the good energy generated by your qigong training can spread to and benefit your family.
When would it be good to introduce my children to qigong? Are there special considerations for teaching them qigong, and would you be able to teach them in an intensive course?
Anyone can benefit from qigong at any age. My youngest student was three months old. She was born with a pre-natal heart problem. Her mother brought the baby to me. I opened some relevant energy points and transmitted some energy to the baby. Then I taught the mother how to daily work on the baby with qigong. The baby recovered from her heart problem.
But to teach someone qigong exercises for him to practice on his own, a good age to start is around seven. Yes, there are special considerations when teaching qigong to children. As their concentration period is short, the teacher should teach as if for fun. Mistakes that he would normally correct in adults, he may ignore in children.
As children are playful, qigong exercises that involve much mind power should be avoid. They should be taught exercises that involve a lot of stretching at the physical level, which will also promote growth in children.
Yes, I would be able to teach children in my intensive course. While adults will benefit more, sending their children to my Intensive Chi Kung Course is one of the best gifts any parents can give to their children.
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