April 2005 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
My school's grandmaster claims lineage from a monk who was purported to be a grandmaster from the Fukien Temple when it was burned down in the late 19th/early 20th century. However, in my research the only places I see that mention him are affiliated with my school, and he does not seem to be mentioned in other historical accounts.
Have you ever heard of this man? How does he fit in with the history you described in one of your question and answer series? My feeling is that he would be hard to miss because of his unusual appearance and him supposedly being the first to master all styles of kungfu at the Shaolin Temple.
— Chris, USA
The southern Shaolin Temole in Fukien (Fujian) Province was burnt down by the Qing Army in the middle 19th century, which is about 150 years before now. The one burnt down in the early 20th century was the northern Shaolin Temple in Henan Province, and that happened about 80 years ago.
In kungfu circles, when one talks about the burning of the Shaolin Temple by the Qing Army, it was the southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian, and not the northern Shaolin Temple at Henan. Many people may not be aware of this fact.
They are also not aware that the burning of the northern Shaolin Temple had nothing to do with kungfu. Traditional kungfu was no longer practiced there for a long time. During the Republican period after the Qing Dynasty had fallen, the northern Shaolin Temple was occupied by a warlord, and a rival warlord attacked and burnt it.
Further, most people are unaware that there were actually two southern Shaolin Temples, one at the city of Quanzhou and the other on Nine-Lotus Mountain. Both were in Fujian Province, and both were burnt down by the Qing Army.
The southern Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou was public. It was built during the earlier Ming Dynasty. When the Qing Dynasty replaced the Ming, Ming royalists relayed around the temple in an attempt to restore the Ming. The Qing Emperor, Yong Cheng, burnt the temple with help from Lama kungfu experts from Tibet.
The other southern Shaolin Temple at Nine Lotus Mountain was secretive. It was built by the Venerable Chee Seen, who escaped from the first southern Shaolin Temple. This second southern Shaolin Temple was burnt by the Qing Army led by Ko Chun Choong, the military governor of Guangdong and Guangxi, with the help of his master, Pak Mei.
It was the northern Shaolin Temple in Henan that the present Chinese government has restored. Neither traditional Shaolin Kungfu nor Zen (Chan) Buddhism was practiced at the northern Shaolin Temple at the time of its restoration. It was only in the 1960s or 70s (I can't remember the dates exactly) that the Venerable Hai Deng, a well known Shaolin kungfu master and monk, was invited to the northern Shaolin Temple to teach kungfu. However, probably due to policy differences, he soon left the temple, and modernized wushu was then taught in numerous wushu schools around the temple.
I have read in the internet about the grandmaster you mentioned but do not know much about him. As both southern Shaolin Temples in Fujian were burnt about 150 years ago, it would not be possible for the grandmaster to be at either one of the temples. I agree with you that as his outward appearance was so unusual, he would not be missed had he been at the temple.
No genuine master would claim that he had mastered all styles of kungfu at the Shaolin Temple, because doing so would simply reveal his ignorance that the Shaolin arts were (and are) so wide and deep that it was impossible to do so. It was also not necessary. Mastering just one style at the temple would be sufficient for all his kungfu purposes, although some talented masters might have mastered a few styles. But attempting to master all the styles of Shaolin Kungfu is like attempting to master all the languages in the world, which would show that he was not only unwise in his use of time but also ignorant of kungfu philosophy.
The grandmaster might be quoted out of context. Or the claim might have been made by his over-zealous followers.
Also, in another of your question and answer comments, you described the process of learning to fight at most kung fu schools. This description is unfortunately in line with my experience. My question here is, is it worth it to attempt to use the kung fu techniques in sparring/combat scenarios as they appear in their sets without doing internal force training?
The twin pillars of high level kungfu training are combat efficiency and internal force training. But internal force training is rare today as it was also rare in the past. High level kungfu is, and also was, elite.
In the past all kungfu exponents used kungfu techniques in sparring and combat, but most of them, with the exception of those trained in internal styles, used external strength. This was a main reason why Shaolin Kungfu was often regarded as an external style. This was because most Shaolin exponents did not train internal force, although, paradoxically, Shaolin Kungfu was very rich in internal force training.
Today, most kungfu exponents, including those who practice internal styles, use external strength, and very few of them use kungfu techniques for sparring or combat. This is a main reason why the internal styles as practiced by most people today have become dances, and why most kungfu exponents have become kickboxers and free-stylists in sparring and combat.
It is not only worth it but only logical, and in today's situation it has become a sense of dignity, that you use kungfu techniques in sparring and combat as they appear in their sets regardless of whether you train internal force.
These techniques were evolved over many centuries from actual fighting movements. Take, for example, the technique of throwing a level punch at your opponent using a Bow-Arrow Stance. This particular technique was not thought out by some masters but evolved from actual fighting experiences.
At first fighters punched clumsily, often throwing their shoulder forward to add weight to their punch, and they did not use any particular kungfu stances, often resulting in their being off balance. Gradually over time, masters discovered that by adopting a particular stance they maintain better balance, and by keeping their body upright they eliminate certain weaknesses their opponent might exploit had they throw their shoulder forward. In Shaolin Kungfu this technique evolved into a pattern called “Black Tiger Steals Heart”.
These kungfu patterns, which represented some effective techniques for fighting, were arranged by kungfu masters in some meaningful way into kungfu sets. Hence, today when you practice these patterns as they appear in a kungfu set, you are learning the techniques masters perfected in the past after they had found them useful in their actual fighting
But why do the great majority of kungfu practitioners today, including some modern masters, cannot use these kungfu techniques in combat or even in sparring? The answer is simple and straight-forward. They only learn how to perform the techniques in solo practice, they never learn and practice using them in sparring.
The methodology for kungfu sparring is lost in most kungfu schools today. Therefore most kungfu practitioners today resort to kickboxing, free-style fighting or other martial systems for sparring. Some even think that kungfu cannot be used for fighting!
We in Shaolin Wahnam are lucky to still have this methodology for kungfu sparring. We know from experience that it is effective. Our students can use typical kungfu techniques in free sparring after they have trained with us for only a year. We are glad to share this methodology with other kungfu practitioners if they wish even though they may not want to practice our style of Shaolin Kungfu or Wahnam Taijiquan. They may get much information from our video clips and relevant webpages.
I seem to remember you mentioning before that the internal force training is what enables a practitioner to be agile and move quickly in stances.
Being agile is one of the many benefits of internal force training. In our philosophy we classify the benefits of internal force into three convenient categories, and agility falls into the third category.
The first category, which constitutes the most important function of internal force, is to maintain life. The internal force you have developed from your kungfu training will overcome your pain and illness if you have any, and enable all your organs and systems to work properly to ensure that life carries on harmoniously.
The second category is to enhance life, and there are many manifestations. When you come back from a hard day's work, and still have energy to enjoy with your family, you are reaping the benefits of internal force training.
The third category enables you to do better in whatever you do. With internal force, not only you will have more power and stamina in your kungfu training, you will also have better mental freshness and more vitality in your daily work.
As we are not taught footwork and are encouraged to figure out applications of and modify techniques on our own, my only recourse would be to carefully examine the footwork and techniques used in our forms, as these are what have come from past masters. I do not feel that I can adequately, or even have the right to, modify techniques and think up my own footwork.
What you do is logical to someone in your situation, and your attitude is respectful. But it is not what we in Shaolin Wahnam would call “smart learning”.
Basing on your own limited knowledge and experience to figure our applications and modifications of techniques and footwork is not only a very poor use of time, it may also lead to adverse side effects. Indeed, this is happening to the great majority who practice kungfu today.
In trying to figure our how to train and spar, due to their limited knowledge and experience, many kungfu practitioners today throw away their stances and kungfu techniques, and bounce about like a boxer, grimace like a karateka, and use muscular tension like a wrestler. They may practice sparring for ten years, yet they might not be more combat efficient than when they were in their first year, besides accumulating untreated internal injuries all this time.
Worse, though many may not be aware of its far-reaching consequences at present, they join the great majority in throwing away our legacy to the drain with the result that posterity may never again enjoy the wonderful benefits of these great arts our past masters have bequeathed to us.
You have other recourses. Instead of figuring out yourself, which is starting from scratch, learn from those who have benefited from the accumulated wisdom of generations of masters. When you learn footwork or combat application from a master, you do not learn what he himself has discovered, you learn what generations of past masters have discovered and passed down to us as a legacy.
If you cannot learn from the master in person, you may learn from his books, and in today's fantastic technological age, from his webpages and video clips. There is a huge difference between learning from a master in person and from his writing or digital records, but at least you would be open to vantage points that your limited knowledge and experience would not figure out.
While it is true that the footwork and techniques recorded in a kungfu set represent the accumulated teachings of past masters over many centuries, they only represent the teachings at a particular point in time and space and with a particular set of conditions. When time, space and conditions change, the application and effect of the same footwork and techniques change. You need a master or at least a competent instructor to bring all these to life for you.
A simple example will make this clear. Suppose in your Shaolin kungfu set you have a pattern called “Tame Tiger with Beads” where you lean your body backward. Immediately after this pattern you move your back leg forward to another pattern called “Golden Leopard Speeds through Jungle”. These are two excellent techniques with appropriate footwork taught by past masters to avoid almost any kicks, then counter-attack the opponent as his attack is just spent.
Timing and spacing are important. If you move forward as he retreats, you will strike him often before he could realize what has happened. But if you are just a second slow, you may move into his second kick. If he does not retract his leg but places it in front after his kick, then you should not move your back leg forward but without moving your legs, just move your body forward to strike him. Again he may be hit before he could realize your counter-attack. But if you move your leg forward, you may move into his elbow strike.
However, if conditions are different you will have to make modifications to adjust to the different conditions. For example, if he is charging into you with a flying kick instead of kicking you while standing on the ground, your footwork would be different from that recorded in the set. You would have to move aside while performing “Tame Tiger with Beads”, then move your front leg instead of your back leg forward to strike him with a leopard punch.
If he is very fast and powerful with his kicks, and is doing a whirlwind kick followed by a hanging kick (or a round-house followed by a reverse round-house), your timing would be different. Instead of moving in immediately, you should purposely slow down for a second or two to allow him time to complete his hanging kick (or reverse round-house). Depending on where he lands his leg after the second kick, you may move your front leg or your back leg to his back and strike him with a leopard punch. Only a master or a competent instructor can show you such subtle differences in using the footwork and techniques passed down to us in a kungfu set by past masters.
I would like to take your intensive kung fu course, but I think I may have to wait a while, as my girlfriend graduates from school in early May, and I feel that any major trip I go on or money I spend around that time should be with or for her to honor her accomplishment and hard work (and she is not yet interested in the martial arts).
You are right in your priorities. The kungfu course can wait but the timing to celebrate with your girlfriend on her graduation can't. It is both thoughtful and wise of you to honor her accomplishment and hard work.
Consider these two scenarios.
Scenario 1: “I am so glad and proud that you have graduated. I am going to Malaysia now to learn kungfu. Wait for me to come back and save enough money, and then we shall cerebrate to honor your accomplishment and hard work.”
Scenario 2: “I am so glad and proud that you have graduated. I thought of going to Malaysia to learn kungfu, but I shall postpone it so that we can now cerebrate to honor your accomplishment and hard work.”
You should, of course, choose Scenario 2. Indeed, in Shaolin Wahnam we learn right timing and right spacing not just for sparring, but more importantly for our daily life.
As I understand it, there is a certified Wahnam instructor in the United States. I hope I do not offend you by asking this, but would it be feasible and permissible for me to contact and, if you and he are willing to accept me, take a periodic class from him in the meantime?
Not only I am not offended, I am impressed with your good sense of propriety. It is not necessary to consult me first if you wish to learn from any of our certified Shaolin Wahnam instructors. The instructors themselves will make the decision to accept or decline your request. But doing so shows your thoughtfulness.
The Shaolin Wahnam instructor you refer to is Anthony Korahais, who is one of the best instructors in our school. He is both skillful and knowledgable, and you should benefit much from his teaching. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
You will also find much useful information and many video clips in his website at http://www.FlowingZen.com/index.html.
I recently started kungfu training. The first form, “Saam Bo Jin”, uses dynamic tension in the arms, back and torso and special breathing techniques. In the form we expand and contract the torso and ribs about 6 times. I repeated the movement about 50-70 times a day because I felt comfortable with it.
However after a month of heavy training I started to have problems in my stomach and abdomen area. At first it was diarrhea but now it has become pain in the whole region particularly in the right side of my abdomen area like the liver and under that too. In my ribs I can feel ticking pain as well as all over my stomach area.
I wake up in the morning feeling sick and weak in the stomach and I am ill to eat much especially heavy foods. I feel sick a lot.
I then read some articles saying that incorrect hard qigong breathing can cause great harm and even death. I am now incredibly worried that I have damaged myself internally beyond repair. I read that with these exercises if done wrongly the damage is irreversible.
— Ziad, UK
It appears that you have developed some internal injuries due to incorrect training of hard chi kung. But don't worry. Your injuries are not irreversible. In fact, the injuries can be readily overcome with correct remedial chi kung exercises done correctly. A good traditional herbalist or acupuncturist can also help to overcome your problem.
Your best option is to see a good chi kung master or chi kung therapist. Chi kung is the best option to overcome internal injuries. But, unfortunately, a really good chi kung master or therapist is hard to find nowadays. Alternatively, you can see a really good traditional Chinese herbalist or acupuncturist. The key word is “good”. A mediocre chi kung instructor, therapist, herbalist or acupuncturist may mess up your problem.
Another alternative lower down the scale is to go to a shop that sells traditional Chinese medicine, and ask for a recipe that clear energy blockage and blood blockage. Most medical shop proprietors will be able to sell you such Chinese medicine. Brew the herbal mixture and drink the concoction on alternate nights before going to bed. Take three concoctions (spread over six nights). Rest for three days, and then take another three concoctions. You may feel much pain as the medical concoction works inside your body to clear the blockage.
Another alternative is to practice “Lifting the Sky”. You can read about the exercise from my books. Breathe in gently. Breathe out gently too but in a loud voice with your mouth open wide. Repeat about 30 times per session, three sessions a day, once in the morning, once in the evening and once at night. “Lifting the Sky” and the herbal concoctions can be taken and practiced together— they complement each other.
If you have a Shaolin Wahnam instructor near your area, it is highly recommended that you learn “Self-Manifested Chi Movement” from him or her. You can check up from my List of Instructors. Remember that, as in the case of herbal concoction, you may feel much pain as the chi flow clear your blockage.
I have practiced Okinawan Karate since the age of nine. But I have been studying Shaolin Kungfu in hopes of understanding my own techniques better (particularly in application and force training). I have read your book, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”. Needless to say, I was very impressed. I don't have a particular question but I really felt that I should thank you for providing such great information in your books and on your website. I believe that true masters are rare these days. One day, if I find a Shaolin teacher to accept me, I will practice and learn what I believe to be one of the greatest martial arts — one of the “Mother Arts” to all martial arts, including my own.
— Alex, Canada
Thank you for your kind words. I am glad you have found my book rewarding.
I have some advice for you and other dedicated martial artists like you. I believe my advice will have much impact not only on your training but also on your life. My advice is not targeted at any particular martial art, but is applicable to all martial arts in general.
Ask yourself what you actually want from your training. Most martial artists would say that they want to defend themselves and to be healthy. Amazingly, despite practicing devotedly for many years, most of them fail to achieve their aims, and, worse, are not even aware of this failure.
Typically, martial artists punch and kick one another in their sparring. Those whose typical training does not include sparring, as in modern wushu and many kungfu schools which teach only solo sets, often mimic free sparring in karate and kickboxing. They think that they will learn self defence this way.
This is a big mistake. They only learn to punch and kick their classmates, but they never learn self defence. If they can defend themselves efficiently, they would not be routinely punched and kicked. They would not regard being punched and kicked as an expected occurrence in martial art training. It is precisely the reverse. One learns a martial art so that he would not be punched and kicked.
Sustaining such internal injuries regularly certainly is bad for health. The harm is insidious. The martial artists may not be clinically sick, like diagnosed with diabetes or tuberculosis, but the internal injuries will affect the working of their organs and systems, and consequently affect their daily performance as well as their life span. It is a big irony for them to think that they practice martial arts for health.
I hope you may not have such problems. But if what I have described relates to your situation, you should find solutions to your problems. You should re-examine the philosophy and methodology of your practice. Take comfort that doing so is not a betrayal to the art you are practicing.
In fact you are contributing to it, and to the welfare of your students or classmates. If you are an instructor yourself you can gradually make appropriate changes. If you are a student, you can politely discuss it with your instructor, and he will appreciate it. You may, for example, work out ways whereby you all can spar using the techniques of your art but without hurting one another unnecessarily.
From your e-mail you strike me as a respectful, dedicated martial artist — the type that any master will find it a joy to teach. Perhaps you may like to attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course. Even if you have not learnt Shaolin Kungfu before, your many years of experience in Karate can provide you the prior experience necessary for my course requirement. We have a comprehensive sparring methodology, where our students not only do not hurt one another in sparring but actually find it both a pleasant and educational experience.
If you like, you can share some of our Shaolin Wahnam sparring methods with your Karate students or classmates. Of course they will be unable to spar as well as you do in the course, but at least you can open them to the possibilities that sparring need not be hurting one another.
Actually such sparring methodologies were found in Karate and other martial arts, otherwise the samurais of old would have killed one another in their own training even before they met their enemies. But, as in the case of kungfu, these sparring methodologies are now generally lost. We in Shaolin Wahnam are very lucky to have preserved these sparring methodologies.
- Video Clip Series showing Application of Taijiquan for Combat
- How Much One could Learn in your Intensive Course — Franciskus
- Is Shaolin Kungfu Too Flowery for Combat?
- Video Clip: Emotional Cleansing in Golden Shower
- Video Clip: Elevation of Spirit and Feeling of Peace