February 2005 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
If qi is energy, by definition, how can it be confined into a ball? Energy has no physical boundaries, so how does this happen?
— Robert, USA
Qi (chi) is consolidated into a ball of energy, and then a pearl of energy in the same way energy is consolidated into a sub-atomic particle.
Actually there is no boundary in a ball of energy, just as there is no boundary in a sub-atomic particle. But the concentration of qi around a point (such as the qi-hai point at your abdomen) is such that we conceptualize it as a ball. If the accumulation of qi is substantial, like in the case of an internal art master, others can see a small drum at his abdomen.
If you look at a ball, such as a football, there is also no boundary at the sub-atomic level. Energy is passing though the conceptualized boundary of the football both ways all the time. There is no definite line defining where the inside and the outside of the football is.
This is the same with everything else, including your body. In fact, in many of my chi kung classes, some students at a heightened state of consciousness discovered that they had no physical body. In Zen terms this is called a satori, or a spiritual awakening, i.e. awakening to the cosmic fact that our physical body is an illusion and that we are spirit (or mind).
Of course, ordinary people, as well as awakened persons in their ordinary state of mind, see a football, their own body and all other things and beings as physical entities. Before quantum physics explains this eloquently, most people thought classical masters were talking nonsense when they explained such cosmic truths.
I understand that the body has 12 major meridians and 8 vessels for qi. I have researched a bit, and found a great amount of information on the meridians and two of the vessels (the Conceptual and Governing). I can't find much on the other 6 vessels. What can you tell me about them?
The other six vessels are the chong mai or “rush” vessel, the dai mai or “belt” vessel, the yin qiao mai or “in-tall” vessel, the yang qiao mai or “out-tall” vessel, the yin wei mai or “in-protective” vessel and the yang wei mai or “out-protective” vessel. These mai or vessels are like reservoirs where “extra” qi is stored.
The chong mai runs from the anus to the crown of the head. The dai mai runs around the wasit like a belt. The yin qiao mai, yang qiao mai, yin wei mai and yang wei mai run from the legs to the head like grids upholding and protecting the body.
Together with the ren mai or conceptual vessel and the du mai or governing vessel, they constitute the meridian system called “the eight secondary vessels”. They are called “secondary” not because they are not important but because they are not directly linked to an internal organ, whereas the twelve primary meridians are each directly linked to the lungs, colon, stomach, spleen, heart, intestine, urinary bladder, kidneys, pericardium, triple warmer, gall bladder and liver.
You will find more information as well as locations of the vessels in my books, “The Complete Book of Chinese Medicine” and “The Art of Chi Kung”.
If practitioner X does Ba Duan Jin and practitioner Y does “Lifting the Sky” for six months, who will have more qi and benefits?
If all other things were equal, practitioner X will have more qi (chi) and benefits. This is because “Lifting the Sky” is only one of the eight exercises in Ba Duan Jin (or “Eight Pieces of Brocade”), which also correspond to the first eight exercises in the Eighteen Lohan Hands practiced in our school, Shaolin Wahnam.
But in real life, all other things are never equal. We shall see how some of these variables affect the results.
For ordinary people, practicing Ba Duan Jin will result in more qi and benefits. The reason is the same as the one given above, i.e. Ba Duan Jin has more exercises, which not only enable the practitioner to work on more parts of his body but also to compensate for harmful effects due to mistakes unconsciously made. If he practices only one exercise, he works on only a limited part of his body, and if he makes mistakes in this one exercises, he has no compensation from the benefits of the other exercises.
If a practitioner is skilful, practicing “Lifting the Sky” alone will bring him more qi and benefits than practicing all the eight exercises of Ba Duan Jin. Why is this so? Couldn't he apply the same skills in the other exercises?
He may, and should, apply his skills on all the other exercises, but practicing only one exercise enhances his focus whereas practicing all the eight exercises spreads out his effort. Being focused enables him to go deep into the one exercise, thereby bringing out not only more but also better benefits. This is especially significant in qigong (chi kung), where one works not just on the physical body but also on energy and mind.
A rough analogy is that one usually gets more benefits, financially as well as spiritually, if he focuses on one specialized profession or business than spreading his time and effort over many. A lawyer, for example, usually gets more benefits if he focuses just on his law practice instead of working at the same time as a gardener, cook, healer, accountant, engineer and other jobs even if he is equally proficient in them.
Knowing these two points of skills and focusing is very helpful to beginners. Many beginners wish to learn as many techniques as possible. They are not aware of the crucial difference between skills and techniques, and that learning too many techniques at the beginning distracts them from developing skills, with the result that they waste much time practicing physical exercises (and even that at low levels) instead of qigong. This is a main reason why we focus on only three fundamental patterns in our beginning classes although many more exercises are explained in my books.
But if a practitioner is already skilful and willing to spend a lot of time in his training, will he get more qi and benefits if he practices, for example, an hour of Ba Duan Jin instead of fifteen minutes of “Lifting the Sky”?
The answer, which Shaolin Wahnam members know very well but which may be a surprise to other people, is “No!” For most people, training qigong skillfully for an hour, especially if it is high level qigong, is over-training which will bring harmful effects instead of more qi and benefits.
Even if the practitioner is advanced and able to adjust to the tremendous increase of energy from his long training, it is not cost-effective, and therefore less beneficial, to practice an hour of eight exercises when practicing for fifteen minutes on any one of the exercises, is sufficient, unless of course if he has special reasons for doing so, like increasing internal force for martial or spiritual cultivation.
We must not forget that we practice qigong devotedly so as to enrich our life and the lives of others. We devote fifteen minutes to qigong training twice a day so that we have good health and vitality to enjoy our daily work and play. We should not become a slave to qigong that we may not have time for other things.
Notwithstanding what has been said, it does not necessarily mean that for a skilful practitioner, practicing “Lifting the Sky” is always better than practicing Ba Duan Jin. There may be particular occasions when having a variety of qigong exercises is better than merely practicing just one type of exercise. If he wishes to work on his stomach system, for example, practicing “Merry-Go-Round” would be more cost-effective than “Lifting the Sky”.
Is one qigong exercise superior to another?
Of course, yes. The same answer applies to other disciplines or activities, such as kungfu and business. Many people are fond of saying that it depends on the practitioners, and not on the exercises, disciplines or activities. These people probably have not been exposed to superior exercises or gone deep enough into their practice to realize the difference.
Another point most people are unaware of is that besides the technique of the exercise, the skill in practicing the exercise is usually more crucial. In other words, both persons may perform the “same” qigong exercise, like “Lifting the Sky”, but due to different skill levels, their results and benefits can be vastly different.
For example, those who learn “Lifting the Sky” from my books would have to perform this exercises about 30 times daily for six months before they can experience some energy flow. Such a result is quite remarkable when one considers that most people practicing qigong today (and they usually perform many different exercises) may not experience any energy flow even when they may have practiced for years. But students attending my Intensive Chi Kung Course (even though they may have no prior qigong experience before the course) can generate an energy flow on their own with only 10 repetitions of “Lifting the Sky” on the third day of the course.
To those who fail to appreciate the difference between skills and techniques, “Lifting the Sky” is the same exercise for these three different groups of people. Those who know better will realize that although the technique is the same, the benefits are so different due to different skill levels in performing them, that they are more rightly termed as different exercises. Those who have no energy flow, perform “Lifting the Sky” as gentle, physical exercise. Those who have some energy flow after six months, perform it as low level qigong operated at the form level. Those who have energy flow after only three days, perform it as high level qigong operated at the levels of energy and mind.
Even if we leave out the dimension of skills and consider only techniques, some exercises are superior to others. Often, a point of reference is needed for the comparison. For example, if our purpose of the training is to generate an internal energy flow, “Lifting the Sky” is superior to “Pushing Mountains”. However, if our purpose is to develop internal force, then “Pushing Mountains” is superior.
But if the practitioner is very skilful, whatever exercise he performs will be superior to any exercise performed by an unskilled practitioner. If the skilful practitioner wishes to generate an internal energy flow, for example, he will have better results and more benefits performing “Pushing Mountains” than an unskilled practitioner performing “Lifting the Sky”. Failure to understand this crucial point is one main reason why many people think they can learn from books or videos as effectively as they learn from living masters, and also why some people vehemently complain that my fees are high.
I was told if there is a sudden change in weather, one should not practice qigong. What are some other conditions where one should not practice qigong?
What you were told is not true, unless the change of weather involves factors that affect chi kung practice unfavourably.
Practicing qigong enables us to perform better in whatever we do. If a change of weather, such as traveling from one climatic region to another, does not affect a person even when he does not practice qigong, if he practices chi kung he would have better results.
If the change of weather causes him discomfort or disorder, such as jet lag after air travel, practicing qigong will help him to minimize or overcome the problem. This in fact is a common benefit of my students who travel frequently.
Similarly it is illogical to say that one must not take sugar, eat hamburgers or drink Coca Cola, or have sex when he practices qigong. If he has been enjoying these pleasures without harmful effects before his qigong training, practicing qigong would enhance his enjoyment.
However if there is a thunder storm, then one should not practice qigong because the energy in the air, which the qigong practitioner would take in during practice, is too powerful. Actually the detrimental factor here is not “a change of weather”, but “a thunder storm”.
One also should not practice qigong in a vigorously moving vehicle, directly under a hot sun, during noon time, at or near a cemetery, in front of a rubbish bin, and where there is poor ventilation. You will find a list of “don'ts” in my book, “Chi Kung for Health and Vitality”.
A master said in an interview, “Practising Tai Chi Chuan is training for qi. All the movements of Tai Chi Chuan are training for qi.” He also said that he would not do separate qigong exercises. But in your book, ”The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan" you state that practising the forms is not enough, but you must do separate exercises for qi, like zhang zhuang and other stuff to get the full benefits of Tai Chi Chuan. So, are the separate qigong exercises done outside the form really necessary for developing qi?
— Samu, Japan
The master is correct. Tai Chi Chuan is a complete set of qigong by itself. There is no need to incorporate other qigong exercises into Tai Chi Chuan to train qi.
Unless he does so for some particular reasons, someone who incorporates other qigong exercises such as from Ba Duan Jin or Soaring Crane Qigong into Tai Chi Chuan in attempt to improve Tai Chi Chuan by adding qigong to it, does not really know what Tai Chi Chuan is.
You are mistaken. Genuine traditional Tai Chi Chuan does not consist only of forms. If you just practice the external forms, you do not practice genuine traditional Tai Chi Chuan, which is an internal martial art; you only practice Tai Chi dance, which is a sort of recreation exercise.
Zhang zhuang and other stuff like tui shou, da shou and san da (or stance training, Pushing Hands, Striking Hands and free sparring) are not separate exercises outside of Tai Chi Chuan; they are integral parts of the genuine art. If you do not practice them, you will miss the essence of Tai Chi Chuan.
On the other hand, if you practice the Tai Chi forms as qigong, and not as recreation exercise, you can develop qi without practicing zhang zhuang. For example, if you just practice “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” correctly about 50 times, you can generate an energy flow or have substantial internal force. Nevertheless, if you also practice zhang zhuang, your qi development would be more cost-effective.
Qi development takes care of the internal dimension of Tai Chi Chuan as an internal martial art. For the martial dimension, you have to practice tui shou, da shou and san da.
Most Tai Chi players today miss these essential aspects of Tai Chi Chuan. That is one main reason why Tai Chi Chuan has been debased into a dance.
I have been practicing Shaolin One-Finger Chan for about half a year. But there is no master teaching it, just some VCD to show all the forms. The one who taught me only tried to correct my posture. In this art, there is no mentioning of chi flow at all but now I can feel tingling sensation at my palm whenever I practice. How do I progress from here. My session is about 1 hour plus with later part of the session in zhan zhuang.
— Tan, Singapore
One-Finger Chan, or One-Finger Zen, is an advanced Shaolin art where a practitioner may use his index finger to kill or heal. It is usually used in conjunction with “dim mark” (“dian xue” in Mandarin pronunciation), an advanced art where a practitioner may disable an opponent's fighting ability by just a single finger touch!
What you were referring was probably the technique called “One-Finger Shooting Zen” to develop the internal force necessary for the art of One-Finger Zen. This is a fundamental training method in our school, and the internal force developed is not just for One-Finger Zen used in “dim mark”, but also for other combat and non-combat purposes.
Your best way to progress is to learn the technique from a master or at least a competent instructor. This will be more cost-effective. Students who attended my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course, for example, could develop internal force in just one session of “One-Finger Shooting Zen” of about 10 minutes. A few students told me that the force was so powerful that they felt as if their index fingers were bursting with energy.
If a person were to attend your Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and practice diligently for several years, could he have the ability to learn a new hand set and apply that for combat? For example, if I learn the Praying Mantis form “White Gibbon Steals the Peach” and I already have attained some basic combat skills from your course, would I be able to apply the techniques from this form in real combat?
— Mark, USA
Yes, and he will be able to do so in a much shorter time, probably a year.
During the course itself, he will not only learn and understand fundamental patterns and footwork but also how to compose his own kungfu sets using important kungfu principles! In other words, even before he leaves home, he already can compose one or more kungfu sets on his own, and understand how each of the pattern in the sets is used in combat.
However, most course participants may not do that although they have that ability. This is due to two main reasons. One, they have so many things to learn that they would spend their time consolidating their learning rather than composing their own kungfu sets. Two, they would find that the kungfu sets they learn from me in the course are far more effective and beautiful than what they could compose on their own.
Course participants will learn four kungfu sets at the course, namely “Lohan Asks the Way”, “Black Tiger Steals Heart”, “Fierce Tiger Speeds through Valley” and “Happy Bird Hops up a Branch”. If the participants learn fast, they may learn a fifth set, namely “Farmer Hoes Field”. You can find these sets as well as their combat application on my review pages.
However, course participants do not learn these sets like the way it is usually learnt in most other schools. They first learn individual patterns and their applications, then combat sequences of these patterns. Then, by linking these patterns and sequences together in some meaningful ways, they find, often to their surprise, they have a kungfu set. Hence, by the time they have a kungfu set, they would have learnt and practiced combat applications of the patterns and sequences for some reasonable time. This in fact, I believe, was how kungfu sets evolved in kungfu history.
Besides the combat application, course participants also learn and practice how to regulate their breathing and how to apply force for each pattern or sequence of the set. As a result, irrespective of whether they perform the set in solo or use its patterns or sequences for combat, they do so with correctness of form, fluidity of movement, reasonable force and good speed, and they would not be panting at the end of their performance. All these skills, which are a part of our combat training programme, are acquired within the five days of the intensive course.
Hence, if he practices diligently for a year, he will be able to learn any kungfu unarmed set and apply its patterns for combat effectively. He also can, if he wishes, compose his own sets according to his special needs and aspirations.
- Video Clip: Combat Sequences from Shaolin Five Animals — Sequence 1
- Video Clip: Taijiquan Combat Sequence 6 — Low Stance Single Whip
- Video Clip: Counters against Muay Thai Sweeping Kicks
- What would Yang Lu Chan do if a Muay Thai Fighter throws Continuous Knees into his Ribs?
- The Weakness of Double Yang
- Sparring and Kungfu Culture