September 2004 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
It has been a dream of mine to study kungfu and martial arts in the East under well-versed instructors who use kungfu and other martial arts to enrich their everyday lives. I would also like the chance to experience the culture in these countries and the different and interesting lifestyles.
In your questions and answers I read that it was impractical for you to provide long-term training, but do you know and can you recommend any places where it is possible to gain long-term training which is not just flowery fists and embroidery kicks?
— David, USA
A lot of people have asked me similar questions, but I have not answered them openly.
It is hard for me to answer these questions, not because the answers are difficult but because they put me into a dilemma between telling the truth whereby I would hurt the sensitivities of other people besides making many members of the public think I am boastful and arrogant, or saying pleasant things that most people like to hear but which would make me untruthful to myself. In short, should I tell the truth and be publicly disliked, or betray my Shaolin training and tell lies? I would of course tell the truth.
You mention “other martial arts” in your question. I would leave “other martial arts” for their masters to answer, and concentrate on kungfu.
First, let us clear some confusion. Many people are confused between “kungfu” and “wushu”. I have addressed this topic a few times in this question-answer series. Here I shall give some brief background information.
The West usually refer to Chinese martial art as “kungfu”. But the current Chinese term for martial art is “wushu”. In other words, what Westerners call “kungfu”, the Chinese call “wushu”. For example, “Shaolin Kungfu” in English is “Shao-lin-Wu-shu” in Chinese.
To compound the confusion, the present Chinese government promotes wushu as a sport, and not as a martial art. Consequently, when participants (including masters) practice wushu, they focus on beautiful forms for demonstration, as this is where points are given by umpires in wushu competitions. Wushu practitioners do not train self defence! In other words, modern wushu is what traditional masters would call “flowery fists and embroidery kicks”.
However, some wushu practitioners attempt to remedy this lack of combat efficiency in wushu by introducing free sparring into their art. Free sparring is called “san da” in Chinese. But their attempt at free sparring or “san da” is unmethodical, with the result that it looks much like Kick-Boxing with little or no wushu forms.
On the other hand, even before the present Chinese government introduced modern wushu, traditional kungfu was brought out of China by migrating Chinese, especially to South East Asia and North America. However, due to various reasons, traditional kungfu was taught mainly through forms or kungfu sets with little or no training on combat. In other words, much of such traditional kungfu was taught as flowery fists and embroidery kicks.
Then, about 1960s Japanese Karate and later Korean Taekwondo became popular. Karate and Taekwondo emphasized sparring. This suddenly shook up kungfu practitioners, making them realize that their art mainly consisted of demonstrating forms, with little or no combat efficiency. To overcome this setback, many kungfu practitioners incorporated, or “stole”, free sparring from Karate and Taekwondo. The result was that enterprising kungfu practitioners sparred like Karate or Taekwondo practitioners.
With this background information, it is not difficult to understand that “using kungfu to enrich one's daily life” is at best only an ideal, but in practice most kungfu and wushu practitioners are not even aware of this ideal. In practice, the main concerns of most kungfu and wushu practitioners are how to look spectacular in solo demonstration, or how to punch and kick their sparring partners unmethodically.
If you look into what and how they train, this pathetic condition becomes understandable. What they train are mainly external forms and unmethodical sparring. How they train consists mainly of muscular exertion and hard conditioning. There is little or no training of mind and energy. And it is the training of mind and energy, which are characteristic of great kungfu training like Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, that enables the practitioners to use their kungfu training to enrich their daily life.
However — and this is where many people may relentlessly attack us — we in Shaolin Wahnam believe in and put into practice this ideal of using our arts to enrich our daily life. It may become obvious if you look into what and how we train.
We place relatively little emphasis on external forms; what we train are mainly internal force development and combat application. How we train consists mainly of training energy and mind (like energy flow and meditation), and on developing skills (like fluidity of movement and quick decision) in systematic combat application.
What is more significant is that we are consciously aware combat training is not an end itself (actually we rarely fight in real life) but an effective means to develop qualities like abundant energy, mental clarity, courage and righteousness that will enrich our daily life. To put in an hour a day to train how to fight when it rarely ever happens, is a poor use of time. But to train an hour daily to acquire abundant energy, mental clarity, happiness and inner peace here and now everyday of our life for a long, long time is very wise.
As it has been mentioned a few times, we are not concerned whether other people agree with our philosophy or even believe in what we say. What they believe or not believe is their right and prerogative. But for those who share our philosophy and want to benefit from our arts (Shaolin Kungfu, Wahnam Taijiquan and chi kung), we are quite generous in offering our teaching.
The best way to learn from me is to attend my intensive courses in Malaysia. Those who wish to attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course or Intensive Taijiquan Course (which I only offer if there are sufficient people request for it), need to have some relevant experience. Those who wish to attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course may attend as fresh beginners (or experienced instructors). They can also attend my regional classes which I offer in many parts of the world throughout the year (but which I may offer less in future).
Those who wish to learn our Shaolin Wahnam arts on a long term basis may enroll with our certified instructors. Many of our instructors have produced remarkable results.
If you wish to learn form other masters, you will have to search for them yourself. There are not many today who will teach you how to make your kungfu training enrich your daily life, but if you search hard and sincerely, you will find them.
After watching a demonstration of Chen Style Tai Chi and also reading about it, I would like to pursue this form of kungfu. But as I have only recently started Shaolin Kungfu, should I wait until I have been practising Shaolin for about a year, then start Tai Chi or is it better to take up Tai Chi as soon as possible with my Shaolin?
Generally it is better to stick to one art, rather than spreading your time thin over two or more. But if you wish to have a taste of the arts before choosing one to devote your time to it, you may practice two or three at the same time for a few months, then choose one to focus on, leaving out the others.
To get desirable results it is advisable to spend some time surveying the market first, instead of straightaway registering in the first two or three schools you come across. Visit the schools, ask questions politely, and observe how the students train. Some masters, however, may not allow you to observe unless you have been accepted as a student.
I was just wondering what your opinion was on exchanging chi with people and trees? What are the physical and spiritual benefits of this?
— Tim, USA
Actually we exchange chi or energy with other people and trees all the time. At the subatomic level, there is no physical boundary between one person and other persons or trees. The skin with which we regard as our boundary between our “inside” and the “outside” does not exist at the subatomic level. Energy passes through the “skin” all the time.
Nevertheless, at the macro level our skin is “real” which separates our “inside” and “outside”. For some particular purposes, an exchange of chi between one person and another, or between him and a tree does occur. For example, a master may channel his chi into a student or a patient to help him. As the master's chi is much stronger, this exchange will benefit the recipient physically and spiritually.
Physically, the master's chi will help the student or patient to clear energy blockage, flush out toxic waste, and nourish his cells and organs. Spiritually, the master's chi will help him to be calm and relaxed, strengthen his mind or spirit, and make him fell wholesome.
When we practice chi kung in natural surroundings, we give off toxic waste which is our negative chi. But to tress this negative chi of humans is their positive chi which they gladly absorb. In return they give off their negative chi which interestingly is our positive chi. Hence there is a mutually beneficial exchange of chi between humans and trees.
I do not know how trees feel about the benefits, but to humans it is beneficial physically and spiritually. Physically the good chi (from the human perspective) given to us by trees nourishes our cells and organs, and make our systems work. Spiritually it uplift our spirit and remind us how wonderful life is. You can readily experience these benefits when you take a walk in the countryside.
I have been practicing Fragrant Qi Gong for about two months. I was told that one must not do any other Chi Kung while doing F.Q.G.
— Colin, Australia
Different masters and different schools have different philosophies and methodologies. In our philosophy, it is alright to practice different types of qigong, including Fragrant Qigong, at the same time.
Practicing one type of qigong usually enhances the performance and attainment of another type of qigong. For example, after attending a regional qigong class to learn Shaolin Cosmos Qigong, the style of qigong we teach, you will find that your performance and attainment in Fragrant Qigong improve many times. This, in fact, is a common feed-back from our students who also practice other styles of qigong.
The philosophy or underlying explanation is quite simple. Any type of qigong, so long as it is genuine qigong, enhances energy and mind. Hence, as a result of improved energy and mind due to qigong training, the practitioner should perform better no matter what he does, including other types of qigong or arts like Taijiquan and yoga, and activities of daily living including eating and sleeping. If it is low level qigong, the enhanced effects may be little and take a long time to materialize; if it is high level qigong, the enhanced effects may be remarkable and fast.
Nevertheless, you should follow the advice of your qigong teacher, especially if you are deriving good benefits from your practice. There are a few possible reasons why he asks you not to mix your current type of qigong with other types. The main reasons are that practicing other types of qigong at the same time may divert your focus on your current qigong, may be counter-productive if they operate on opposing principles, or may due to his policy to enforce loyalty only to him or his school.
I also asked whether it would be alright to meditate, and was told “Meditation is OK unless it is one where you visualize and direct qi movement in the channels.”
Meditation is an advanced art, and should be practiced under the supervision of competent teachers. However, many people think that meditation is easy and can be trifled with by practicing on their own.
You should practice qigong or any art according to the way it is taught. In this way you will get the best benefits from your practice. The presumption, of course, is that the teacher is competent. This is only logical. Your art, including the way how it is practiced, is the result of years or centuries of development by masters.
Hence, if there is meditation in your qigong, then meditate. If not, then don't. If there is no meditation in your qigong, but you wish to learn it, then learn it separately from a competent teacher. If you try to add meditation into your qigong when there is none, or try to practice it on your own without proper supervision, you may end up with harmful effects or, if you are lucky, waste a lot of time.
Meditation where a practitioner visualizes and directs qi movement is an advanced art and should be performed under proper supervision. This does not means that other types of meditation is safe and can be done on your own, as implied by the informant, who obviously has shallow knowledge and practice of meditation.
I have purchased your book “Chi Kung For Health & Vitality”. After reading it I would like to commence doing the following chi kung exercises in the book: “Lifting the Sky”, “Plucking Stars”, “Pushing Mountains”, “Carrying the Moon”, “Circulating Head”, “Merry-Go-Round”, “Big Windmill”, “Hula-Hoop”, “Deep Knee Bending” and “Circulating Knees”.
I would also like to keep doing F.Q.G. In your book you say it is alright to mix different styles. I would appreciate your opinions whether it would be alright to continue doing F.Q.G., or just do the ones in the book and discontinue F.Q.G.
The qigong (chi kung) exercises you mention are relatively safe if you follow the instructions respectfully. They can also bring you a lot of benefits.
A very important instruction is that you must practice the exercises gently without using muscular strength. It is helpful to remember that they should be performed as qigong exercises, and not as physical exercises.
If you learn those exercises from my book, it is recommended that you practice many exercises, and for each exercise perform many times. But those who have learnt from me or any of our Shaolin Wahnam instructors personally, would get more benefits by focusing on just one exercise in one training session.
From our Shaolin Wahnam perspective, after having learnt from us personally, not only you can practice other qigong exercises, including those from Fragrant Qigong, but you will also perform them better.
This is inevitable. What you learn from us are not merely qigong exercises but fundamental qigong skills, like going into a qigong state of mind and generating an internal energy flow. Once you have these fundamental skills, you will not only perform Shaolin Wahnam qigong exercises well but all other qigong exercises well.
If you have been practicing other qigong exercises as physical exercises — this, in fact, is the norm today — having learnt fundamental qigong skills from us, you can now perform these other qigong exercises as qigong. Previously you merely performed the external forms of the exercises. Now you can use these forms to generate an energy flow.
You still can develop qigong skills by learning from my books, but of course it will not be as effective and profound as learning from me or any of our instructors personally. Irrespective of whether you learn from my books or from us personally, you can mix our Shaolin Wahnam qigong exercises with any other qigong exercises or with any other arts.
If you have not derived any noticeable qigong benefits (like having energy flow and being relaxed and happy) from your Fragrant Qigong training, it is better to leave aside your Fragrant Qigong exercises and just practice the Shaolin Wahnam qigong exercises you learn from my book.
You must practice these new exercises not as physical exercises like you used to do with your old exercises, but as qigong or energy exercises. All you have to do is to follow the instructions given in my book as best as you comfortably can. In other word, the onus is not merely to perform the physical movements of the exercises, but to employ the movements as means to relax and generate an energy flow.
After you have attained some qigong benefits like being able to relax and generate an energy flow, you can return to your old Fragrant Qigong exercises. But you must not perform these exercises like what you did before. You must perform them like what you do with the Shaolin Wahnam exercises. In other words, the qigong techniques may be different (Fragrant Qigong exercises verses Shaolin Wahnam exercises), but the qigong skills are the same (being relaxed and generating an internal energy flow).
I would like to learn the following.
- One-Finger Zen and Golden Bridge.
- Eight Peaces of the Brocade (Ba Duan Jin);
- How do I realize the correct training? What breathing methods are suitable for them?
— Gil Vaz, Brazil
One-Finger Zen and Golden Bridge are important Shaolin kungfu exercises. Eight Pieces of Brocade are a set of Taoist chi kung exercises. They also form the first eight exercises in the version of Eighteen Lohan Hands in our school, Shaolin Wahnam.
These exercises are well described and explained in my webpages and books. However, if you do not have relevant experience in Shaolin Kungfu and chi kung, it is likely that you will perform them as physical exercises instead of as chi kung or energy exercises they actually are.
The difference between physical exercises and energy exercises is not in their forms but in the manner they are being performed. The external forms are the same, but they are performed differently.
As physical exercises, they are performed to work on the physical body, like muscles and joints. This is what the great majority of practitioners do. As energy exercises, they are performed to work on energy as well as the physical body and the spirit. If one does not know what is working on energy and spirit, then he has been practicing only physical exercises, though he may quite likely call them chi kung.
All these are fundamental kungfu and chi kung exercises in our school, Shaolin Wahnam. You can train them correctly by attending my intensive courses or regional classes, or from qualified Shaolin Wahnam instructors in many parts of the world. Please check my website for details.
Breathing methods for theses exercises are subtle, and should be learnt from a competent teacher. It is difficult if not impossible to describe them in words. For example, in One-Finger Shooting Zen, practitioners breathe out a long “shss” sound with the lips rounded. But how long is “long”, what exactly is the “shss” sound, and how are the lips correctly rounded, amongst many other considerations, have to be personally demonstrated before a student can practice them correctly.
I have been practicing Ta Mo Yi Jin Jing, Zhan Zhuang and Lohan Eighteen Hands. I like to know about Xi Shui Jing (Bone Marrow Cleaning).
Usually the names of an art, like Yi Jin Jing and Eighteen Lohan Hands, refer to the forms of the exercises. But Xi shui Jing is different. Xi Shui Jing (or Bone Marrow Cleansing) refers not to the form of the exercise but to its effect of cleansing the practitioners' nervous system.
Any exercise that can do this, when performed by an advanced practitioner, can be called Xi Shui Jing. Thus, if a practitioner performs an exercise from Eighteen Lohan Hands (such as “Pushing Mountains” or Carrying the Moon”) to a high level whereby he cleanses his nerves, that exercise can be called Xi Shui Jing.
Yi Jin Jing, Zhan Zhuang and Eighteen Lohan Hands are chi kung exercises. But from your description, it is obvious that you have been practicing these arts as physical exercises. If you wish to enjoy the wonderful benefits of these chi kung exercises, I would strongly recommend that you attend my intensive courses or regional classes, or learn from certified Shaolin Wahnam instructors, or learn from other masters or competent instructors.
I would cite some typical occurrences in my regional classes on Yi Jin Jing (or Sinew Metamorphosis) as well as some recent experiences in my latest regional class on internal force where zhan zhuang is employed, to show what I mean by the wonderful benefits of these exercises. After flicking their fingers just three times, students at my Yi Jin Jing classes would feel so much internal force at their hands and arms that they would not help saying “Wow!” If they are ready, advanced students might have a glimpse of their Original Face, which is another way of saying they were with God!
In my regional class on internal force (Germany, July 2004), a student who had been practicing Taijiquan for 30 years and teaching for 10, gratefully told the class that that was the best and most pleasant zhan zhuang (stance training) he had ever had. He felt so powerful yet so peaceful and fresh.
Mark, a kungfu student from Shaolin Wahnam England, told the class that he felt a continuous powerful surge of energy rising from his back, round his head, down his body and gushing down his legs. Tim, another kungfu student from Shaolin Wahnam England, said that he could clearly see in his mind's eyes the whole class behind him doing zhan zhuang, to which I replied that it was such ability when further developed that enabled kungfu masters in the past to catch darts and flying knives aimed at them from behind.
You can also read some typical experiences and benefits of our students in our Shaolin Wahnam Virtual Kwoon and Discussion Forum. Understandably, many people may not believe such accomplishments in our chi kung classes. That is their business. But I just want to show the kind of opportunities we offer to sincere students.
- Zen Stories — Neil Burden
- Experiencing Satori at the Blue Mountain — Laura Fernández Garrido
- Enjoying Nature, the Evening Colours, the Wind, the Birds Singing — Inge Vandromme
- Why Shaolin Kungfu is the Greatest Martial Art
- A Comparison of Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan