Novemeber 2004 (Part 2)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I can send qi from one part of my body to another without any difficulty. But I notice that there is a time lag involved. For example, first I send qi to my waist and it starts to move. Then when I send it to my hand, my waist continues to move for a long while before the qi reaches my hand. Does the long delay simply means my skill is not well-developed yet and qi responds more slowly to my mind, or does it mean that the qi is telling me that it should be at the waist rather than the hand (qi knows better than me where it should go)?
— Chris, Singapore
You would be pleased to know that directing qi to wherever you wish is a skill of masters. Congratulations for acquiring this skill within a relatively short time.
The delay of qi to reach your intended target may be due to your skill not being well developed yet, or to qi remaining to attend to some more urgent problems, or to other factors. When you directed qi to your waist, your waist moved because qi had reached there to move it. This showed that you have good skill in directing qi. Then why couldn't you direct qi as quickly to your hand?
A possible reason was that you mind was distracted when you directed qi to your hand, whereas your mind was one-pointed when you directed qi to your waist. Another possible reason was that as the qi traveled to your hand when directed by you, for some reason you tensed your arm, therefore blocking the qi flow. Only when you relaxed your arm, and also relax your mind, the qi could successfully flow to your hand.
It was also possible that there was some problem at the waist, and the qi remained there to tackle the problem. However, this was not likely. Unless the problem was very serious, at your level of skills now, you should be able to direct the qi from your waist to your hand. But when you let the qi to flow freely, it would spontaneously return to your waist.
At the course, Sifu said that to a master, qi could be channeled instantly to any part of the body, for example to block a kick. When I enter a qigong state of mind, I can send qi to my hand or leg or anywhere else, but my qi still responds quite slowly. When one is in a life-and-death battle and probably not in the most meditative state of mind, can that person still use his mind to direct qi instantaneously?
Yes, a skilful person like a kungfu master can effectively use his mind to direct qi instantaneously in combat. And the master in combat is usually in a meditative or qigong state of mind. Here I speak from direct experiences — my sifus', my own as well as my disciples' experiences.
I would not call mine life-death combats, but in my younger days I was caught in numerous fights, including attacks by many people at the same time. It was this skill of directing qi instantaneously, as well as my good stances and footwork, that enabled me to come out of the fights safe and sound.
My sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, was once attacked by more than 30 people armed with deadly weapons like axes and spears out to kill him. When a dozen axes and spears rained on you at the same time, using muscular movements would not be fast enough to get you out alive. My sifu was not only so skilful but also so compassionate that he caused just enough injury to the leader to scare away the attackers, without killing or seriously wounding them.
Not too long ago, Kai, my senior disciple, was attacked by seven people using weapons, including one with a gun. Within five seconds, all seven were on the ground, four with broken bones. True to our Shaolin teaching, Kai was compassionate, he just broke their bones. In such a situation, breaking their bones was the minimum needed to stop armed attackers killing you.
These were true cases. We at Shaolin Wahnam never glorify fighting, but these cases enable us to speak with conviction when we say kungfu (without resorting to bouncing about and kicking wildly) is effective for combat.
How could a kungfu master be so incredibly fast and powerful? It is the flow of qi. But it is not just directing qi to targeted parts of the body, or the instantaneous channeling of qi to block attacks, although generating and directing qi flow are basic skills. When half a dozen attackers come at you at the same time, you have no time to examine their attacks and think of suitable counters.
Then how would a master counter? He doesn't think! All the thinking as well as appropriate counters have been “programmed” into him in his prior training. He just moves spontaneously, directed by his qi flow. In the combat itself, he is usually not consciously aware of his exact movements, but his movements directed by qi flow in a meditative state of mind are always correct!
I would be grateful if Sifu could refresh my memory about how to complete the exercise in Standing Meditation. I remember Sifu teaching us to gently think of the dan tian for a few minutes. Is this correct? How is Standing Meditation different from Swaying in the Breeze?
There are no hard and fast rules which one must follow strictly and in a definite order, but the following is a good guideline. Take note that there are two occasions for thinking of the dan tian. The first is when you are about to complete your qi flow and commence Standing Meditation.
Gently think of your dan tian. Don't think of the dan tian for a few minutes. Just think of it for a second or two. (However, later when you are more advanced and wish to emphasize building a ball of energy, you may gently think of the dan tian for a few minutes.). You will gracefully slow down in your qi flow and come to Standing Meditation. Then do not think of anything. Just enjoy the great void, and experience freedom, joy and inner peace. Before you complete your session, gently think of your dan tian again for a minute or two. Then perform your facial massage, point massage and heavenly drum
Which were the exercises that tap cosmic energy? I believe they are the 3 dynamic patterns since self-manifested or self-directed movements are medical qigong to cleanse rather than increase energy. Actually, this question is rather academic since I enjoy and practice all the exercises Sifu taught us. But I would like to know which exercises specially taps cosmic energy so I can do more of those.
All exercises performed as genuine qigong tap cosmic energy as well as generate energy flow. These are the two fundamental tasks of all qigong, and were referred in the past as “yang qi” and “yun qi”, which means “nourish or build energy” and “circulate energy”. Low level qigong takes a long time, in matter of years, to achieve these effects, and the effects are little. High level qigong achieves a lot of effects in a short time, in matter of weeks.
If the exercises are performed as gentle physical exercises, then these two effects do not occur, irrespective of how long one may have practiced. This is the situation of the great majority of qigong practitioners (including some masters) today. Their exercises are genuine qigong forms, but these forms are performed as gentle physical exercise.
The situations are the same in Taijiquan. When Taijiquan is practiced correctly (that is, according to the manners past masters practiced it), it is qigong. It tapes cosmic energy as well as circulates energy flow. When it is practiced as gentle physical exercise (where taping cosmic energy and circulating energy flow are absent), it degrades into a graceful dance.
For specific purposes, different exercises or the same exercises in different situations, may be practiced with different emphasis on building energy or on circulating energy. For example, zhan zhuang exercises, such as the Three-Circle Stance and the Golden Bridge, are for building energy. The ratio between building energy and circulating energy in zhan zhuang is about 90-10 respectively. Self-Manifested Qi Movement is for circulating energy, and the ratio is about 90% for circulating and 10% for building..
Although “Lifting the Sky” is excellent for circulating energy, it also builds energy. The ratio is generally about 70% for circulating and 30% for building. “Pushing Mountains” is about the reverse, 30% for building and 70% for building.
However, with the fundamental qigong skills you have learnt at the Sabab Intensive Course, you can vary the ration in whatever ways you like. You may, for example, perform your Three-Circle Stance for two or three minutes to build some internal force, then let go and use the internal force in self-manifested qi movement for cleansing. Your ratio then may be 10% or 20% for building and 90% or 80% for circulating.
Alternatively, you may perform “Lifting the Sky”, “Pushing Mountains” and “Carrying the Moon”, or just any one of them, for two or three minutes to go into self-manifested qi movement first, then slow down into Standing Meditation to build a ball of energy at your dan tian. The ratio may be 10% or 20% for circulating and 90% or 80% for building.
Understanding this principle and using your skills and techniques, you can now practice your Taijiquan in many interesting and rewarding ways to serve various purposes. You may, for example, practice “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” ten times each side, then circulate energy, build energy or both in whatever ratio you choose. After 20 repetitions of “Grasping Sparrow's Tail”, you may go into Standing Meditation to gently think of your dan tian, thus employing 100% of this exercise to build energy. Or you may go into self-manifested qi movement, using 100% to circulate energy.
Or you may go into self-manifested qi movement to circulate energy for x%, then Standing Meditation to build energy for y%, or go into Standing Meditation first to build energy for a%, then self-manifested qi movement to circulate energy for b%. It was no wonder that practitioners in the past who understood these approaches, found practicing Taijiquan full of fun.
Sifu, I am so sorry that I forgot the detailed instructions for building a ball of energy at the dan tian. I only remember that I should think of the dan tien when in a qigong state of mind. Is this correct? There seemed to have been other instructions like opening the baihui and visualizing the qi flowing down to the dan tien.
Yes, that is correct. If you want to build a ball of energy at your dan tian, just gently think of your dan tian while in Standing Meditation. That is simple, direct and effective.
Just think of your dan tian once or twice, then let qi accumulate there spontaneously. This is Wu-Wei, or Zen. Then, before your complete your exercise, gently think of the dan tian again.
If you are more skilful, you may place your mind at your dan tian during the whole period of Standing Meditation (not just thinking of the dan tian once or twice). This is more powerful. But it is an advanced skill, and you should attempt it only if you are competent, otherwise there may be problems.
For today's standards, just thinking of the dan tian once or twice is sufficient; when practiced correctly it can produce a lot of internal force even for masters. Of course for the untrained, it will produce no effect, if not boredom or mental stress.
Opening the baihui and visualizing qi flowing down the whole body including the hands and legs (and not to the dan tian yet) is another, more advanced, skill that you learn on the third day of the Sabah Intensive Qigong Course. You start this exercise with “Lifting the Sky”. (When you are skilful, you can use any qigong exercise.)
For the first part you cleanse. You open all your meridians and let cosmic energy flow through you, clearing physical, emotional, mental as well as spiritual blockage. You are a connection between heaven and earth.
Then you nourish. You let cosmic energy nourish every cell of your body (and mind). Finally you consolidate the energy at your dan tian into a ball, or a pearl. You feel purified and highly energized, yet peaceful and happy. If you are ready, as many of the participants at the Sabah course experienced, you may have a glimpse of your Original Face, or in Western terms you see God.
We learnt and practiced so many fantastic skills at the course that a slow learner like me did not assimilate everything. But certainly, as Sifu told us, even if we just remember a quarter of what we learnt, the benefits are enormous. This I have experienced first hand. So even though I have these questions, I usually ignore some of the questions in my head, and just enjoy the exercises, just as you taught us in the course. I recall your telling us that thinking about our questions or even the mistakes we are making may cause us to leave our qigong state of mind. All that is important is that I really enjoy my qigong sessions and the state I am in when practicing (and even after).
This is excellent observation. Very good, carry on.
(Editorial Note: More questions from Chris will appear in the November 2004 Part 3 issue)
I was taught a hand set quite a few years ago, and have learned since that it was a portion of the Wong Family Hand Set. Further research on what I had learned led me to believe that the Wong Family Hand Set descends from the form “Chin Ye”, or the Snake and Crane form. I was wondering if you could provide any insight, or additional information, on this subject.
— Gary, USA
I am sorry I know nothing about the Wong Family Hand Set or the “Chin Ye” form. This Wong Family Hand Set is not from my Wong family!
A major problem of Chinese words transliterated into English spelling is of that it does not tell the meaning of the words, like the original Chinese characters do. Hence, “Chin Ye” does not give me any clues as to what the term means.
The pronunciation is sometimes problematic too. “Chin Ye”, for instance, may be pronounced in a few different ways giving totally different meanings.
I have been practicing Tai Chi Chuan for about three years now but am confused about the desired position for the pelvis/tailbone and lumbar region. Some advocate tucking the tailbone under and straightening the lumbar region.
I practiced like this for a long time and felt rooted, powerful and relaxed but I also found it to be an unnatural position that I had to think about constantly and over time I found it hurt my knees and hipjoints. I was advised to try what came naturally and avoid being contrived.
When I relax and imagine my head suspended from above, my tail bone “wants” to point to the floor behind me and my buttocks sit on top of my legs causing a curve in my lumbar region. I find this more comfortable but I don't feel my weight going into the floor through my feet as I did before.
Is it advisable to practice in a way that my body wants to practice or is it a question of training my body over time into new habits?
— John, England
I am sorry that despite your detailed description, I still do not have a clear picture of your pelvis, tailbone and lumbar positions during your Tai Chi Chuan training. This shows the necessity of having a competent instructor check your Tai Chi Chuan forms.
In our school, Shaolin Wahnam, we are not so concerned about whether your tailbone is tucked in or pointing to the floor, because a different form or even the same form in different situations may require different positioning. Our body positioning is guided by what is known in kungfu terms as the “three external harmonies”, i.e. the hands, the trunk of the body, and the legs are in harmony. These “three external harmonies” should be harmonious with the “three internal harmonies”, i.e. “jing” or essence, “qi” or energy, and “shen” or spirit.
When you have these “six harmonies” you would be well-rooted, powerful, relaxed and natural as well as focused, balanced, fluid, agile and mentally fresh. These adjectives are not mentioned here as a matter of fashion, but actually describe the conditions of our students when they attain the “six harmonies” in their moving as well as static forms. For example, irrespective of his tailbone position, if a student bends his knee too far or raises his shoulders, he would have muscular tension, resulting in a loss of the above qualities.
Whether you should practice according to what your body wants to practice or train your body over time into new habits, depends on a few variables. Among other variables, if your body is already well-trained, fluid and able to flow naturally into desirable positions, as in spontaneous qi flow, then you can practice according to what it wants to practice. However, if you are new to Tai Chi Chuan, you have to learn the correct forms with some conscious effort.
Tai Chi Chuan is an art, not a natural process. This means Tai Chi Chuan forms are man-made, or unnatural to an untrained person. You have to practice and practice these forms which were initially unnatural, until they have become second-nature to you.
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- The Unexpectedness of it All — Dr Neil Kelson
- Themes in Shaolin Combat Sequences and Taijiquan Pushing Hands and Striking Hands Series
- A Comparison of Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan