September 2005 (Part 2)


kungfu sparring

San-da or free sparring has been an essential aspect of kungfu training since classical times. Please see video clip.

Question 1

I have been training Yang Style Tai Chi for six months with a teacher who regularly talks about and demonstrates combat applications of Tai Chi movements. A couple of months ago during a Tai Chi lesson three young men tried to steal things from our changing rooms. My teacher tried to stop them and ended up on the floor with a cut on his head. Though I know it is disrespectful, I could not believe that after all his talk of combat applications that he could be beaten. Thus I started to question how effective the Tai Chi I am learning would be in a combat situation.

— Robert, Sweden


Unless there were special factors involved (please see below), the incident above shows that the Tai Chi you have been learning is not effective in combat, despite your teacher having regularly talked about and demonstrated Tai Chi combat application. Actually such a situation is not uncommon, especially among Tai Chi practitioners but also among practitioners of other kungfu styles. In this respect, we may conveniently classify kungfu classes into four broad categories.

  1. Those that practice only outward kungfu forms. This is the norm in most Tai Chi, modern wushu and many other kungfu styles.
  2. Those that talk about and sometimes demonstrate kungfu application, but do not systematically train in it. This sometimes happen in some Tai Chi and other kungfu schools but seldom in modern wushu.
  3. Those that practice combat application but the techniques and skills they use are taken from other martial systems, especially from Kick-Boxing, Taekwondo and Karate, and not from the kungfu they themselves practice. Today this is common in many kungfu schools, except in Tai Chi and modern wushu, which are practiced more for recreation and demonstration respectively, rather than for combat efficiency.
  4. Those that systematically practice combat application using the kungfu techniques and skills they themselves practice. Today this is a rarity.

These four categories are arranged above in accending order in combat efficiency. In other words, the first category is not efffective for combat, whereas the fourth category is the most effective. Kungfu practitioners who use Kick-Boxing, Taekwondo and Karate for combat are more effective than those who merely talk about or demonstrate kungfu combat application but not trained in it.

Your Tai Chi class falls in the second category. Your Tai Chi teacher, like many kungfu teachers including some elderly Chinese teachers whom the innocent Chinese public often regard as old formidable masters, does not realize that there is a huge difference between knowing kungfu application theoretically and actually using kungfu in real practical situations. The practical situations may not necessarily be combative in nature.

For example, a kungfu teacher may explain how to overcome a kick or a lock, and may be able to do so if someone freezes in the attack for him to demonstrate. But if the attacker is fast and powerful, as in a real fight, the teacher may be unable to defeind himself.

In non-combative situations, the teacher may talk about how practicing kungfu builds mental clarity and internal force, but in real life he may be unable to make quick, wise decisions or to run up a flight of stairs without panting.

Returning to your teacher's case, it is also possible, though unlikely, that his fall was due to special factors. Your teacher could apply Tai Chi for combat, but the thieves could be better fighters. Or, in a momnet of carelessness, your teacher fell on the floor and cut himself.

Question 2

Most of the people who were training at the time of the incident (and most of them have been training for at least two years) did not even leave the training room when the incident was taking place and I doubt whether they would have been able to defend themselves.


This is most unbecoming and shameful of the students. Even if a stranger was hurt while trying to prevent thieves stealing their belongings, they should come to his aid, what more when the person in need of help was their teacher whom they had been learning from for at least two years. Even if they could not fight, their sheer number could have overcome the three thieves.

Training a martial art, especially a great art like Tai Chi Chuan, is not just learning how to fight. It is a training of character and cherishing values like righteousness, courage and loyalty. Those people have wasted their time in their training.

They should draw inspiration from the great Yang Lu Chan, the First Patriarch of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, from whom most Tai Chi schools today derive their lineage. When his teacher, from whom Yang Lu Chan did not even learn formally, was challenged, he stood up to defend his teacher's honour, risking his life at the hand of the challenger as well as possible punishment by death later on by his own teacher for learning Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan secretly. Fortunately everything turned out well eventually.

Question 3

What I respectfully would like to ask you is whether I should continue with Tai Chi or begin training kung fu. In my city there is Wing Tsun (I looked at a training session and they spent a lot of their time on sparring), North Shaolin Kung Fu (they also spent a lot of time sparring) and Wushu. I intend to look at a training session from each of these schools and, based on what I have read on your website, try to choose one.


If your sole purpose of training a martial art was just learning to fight, which is not a wise use of your time, you should join one of these schools that spend a lot of time on sparring. But there are other important considerations. For example, do these schools spar using kungfu techniques and skills? If they free spar haphazardly instead, it is likely you would injury both your spirit and body in the training.

But the most important consideration is whether you should leave your teacher in a time of his need. Even if you had to leave, you should choose a more appropriate time. If a teacher were immoral or vicious, like stealing people's wives or causing harm indiscriminatingly, you should leave him without question. But your teacher is honorable and deserves your respect. Being unable to defend himself against the thieves is nothing dishonorable. Greatness lies not in never falling, but in rising after every fall.

I would advice you to stay with your teacher and help him restore the glory of Tai Chi Chuan. You school has good points to start with. Yours comes from a lineage that believes that Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art. Your teacher talks about and often demonstrates Tai Chi combat application.

What is missing is systematic practice of this combat application, not just attempting it in an ad hoc manner. From the intermediate level onwards, combat training and force training (including training of skills like footwork and agility) should take more than 80 percent of your training time. I would suggest that you talk to your teacher politely and tactfully about this. It may also be a good idea if you talk to the class openly. First praise and thank your teacher, and propose a systematic training programme with emphasis on combat application.

Different teachers and schools may have different ways to train combat application, but the following is a viable one. First, train one-step pre-arranged sparring. Work in pairs. One person attacks with a pre-arranged movement and the other defends with a pre-arranged Tai Chi Chuan technique.

The onus is not to learn which technique to counter which attack. This can be learnt in a few minutes, and which you teacher knows well. The onus is to develop combative skills, such as spacing, timing anf fluidity of movements. Developing combat skills, which means among other things that one can apply the pre-arranged technique with right spacing, timing and smooth movements, takes at least weeks.

At the initial stage of one-step pre-arranged sparring, all the common attacks in all the four categories of striking, kicking, felling and gripping, and their respective counters should be covered. This will take a few months of consistent practice. At the end of this stage, all students should be able to defend against or counter any one common strike, kick, felling or gripping attack correctly and skilfully. In other words, if an attacker throws you a punch or a kick, or attempt to fell you to the ground or grip your arm, you should be able to neutralize the attack spontaneously.

The next step is to train sequence sparring. In other words, instead of just attacking you with one pattern and then stop there for your reaction, your sparring partner attacks you with a short sequence of attacks. He may, for example, initiates with a right punch, then a left punch and follow up with a right side kick.

This sequence is pre-arranged. This is a crucial point. If his attacks are random, the training would be haphazard. Your counters must also be pre-arranged. The onus here, like before, is not to learn what counters against the sequence of attacks, but to apply the pre-arranged counters against the pre-arranged sequence of attacks skilfully. Herein lies the secret of systematic training.

When you are reasonaly skilful in countering one sequence of attacks, you can work out other sequences. For example, your partner may still initiate with a right punch, but he will follow up not with a left punch but with a right side kick, then with a left whirlwind kick. This second attack sequence as well as your counters are also pre-arranged. Gradually you can work out other attack sequences and their counters.

At first you and your sparring partner know before-hand which sequence will be used in an encounter. This is what we call “pre-choice” in our school, Shaolin Wahnam. Then you progress to “self-choice”, in which case the initiator or attacker chooses a pre-arranged sequence. As the responder or defender does not know which sequence is chosen, he just responds accordingly, but once the response is made the sequence continues as pre-arranged.

Then you can progress to another stage of combat training called “external change” in our Shaolin Wahnam sparring methodolgy. Here the responder allows the pre-arranged sequence to flow for a while, then intercepts it before the initiator can complete it, and counter-attacks using another pre-arranged sequence of his own choice. For example, the initiator plans to use the sequence of right punch, right side kick and left whirlwind kick, but before he could use the left whirlwind kick, the responder intercepts the sequence and begins another sequence.

Later the responder may intercept near the beginning of a sequence and counter attack with another sequence. In our sparring methodolgy this is called “internal change”. Next, either the initiator or the responder may introduce another “external change” or “internal change”, or add a new sequence.

This sparring methodology is systematic. If you follow the procedure for two years, you should be able to free spar effectively using typical Tai Chi Chuan techniques and skills. If you have any questions, please post them on our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum. You will also find a lot of information on sparring methodology on my website, especially at Video Series showing Taijiquan Application for Combat and Video Clips and Notes on Shaolin Wahnam Sparring Methodology.

I would recommend that you and your Tai Chi teacher or one of his senior student attend my Intensive Tai Chi Chuan Course. I do not offer such courses often, but there will be one held in Malaysia from 20th to 26th January 2006. Please see Intensive Taijiquan Course for details. You will be able to spar using Tai Chi Chuan during the course itself. You can then incorporate what you have leanrt into your Tai Chi Chuan school when you return home to help your teacher restore the glory of Tai Chi Chuan. My intensive courses are meant to supplement, not replace, what you are practicing in your own school.

Question 4

In the beginners' Tai Chi course my teacher was very thorough and we practised many times the same movements, something that I appreciated very much. Since starting the intermediate course though the teacher often runs through 3-5 movements at a time and we only practise them a couple of times moving on to new ones the week after. I do not feel that I can keep up even though I practise twice a day. I do not wish to question my teacher as he has been teaching for twenty years and I wish to show him respect. Should I continue or would it be better to train Kung Fu?


First of all, remember that Tai Chi Chuan is Tai Chi Kungfu. Shaolin Kungfu is called “Shao Lin Chuan” in Chinese. “Kungfu” means “martial art”.

You teacher's teaching method was sound. Having gone over basic Tai Chi Chuan movements with you thoroughly, whereby you developed basic skills, he sped up the learning process.

Your failure to keep up was probably due to your mode of learning. For convenient we may divide learning process into two main modes, namely “route learning” and “insight learning”. An analolgy will make the difference between “route learning” and “insight learning” clearer.

Suppose you wish to learn how to type 10 documents. Using “route learning” you learn how to type each document individually. There is no relationship between one document with another. After typing the first document, for example, you start from scratch with the second document. Your having typed the first document does not benefit you in your typing the second document, or any other documents.

“Insight learning” is different. You do not learn how to type the documents; you learn how to type. Once you know the fundamentals of typing, you can type any documents.

It is the same in kungfu training. In Shaolin Wahnam we use “insight learning”. It is extremely cost-effective. For example, we do not start by learning particular kungfu sets, but we start by learning the fundamentals of kungfu. Once we have done this, we can learn a kungfu set in one or two days, whereas those who use “route learning” will normally take three to six months. Not only we learn much faster, we also understand the set better and are more effective in its performance and application. We understand, for instance, why patterns are linked together in a particular way, are able to perform the set fast and forcefully without panting for breaths, and can apply the patterns for various combat situations.

If you attend my Intensive Tai Chi Chuan Course (which has a revised syllabus), you are expected not only to learn and perform four Tai Chi Chuan sets well in five days, but also to understand their underlying philosophy and be able to apply them effectively for combat.

kungfu sparring

Combat sequence training is an important part of the Shaolin Wahnam Sparring Methodology. Please click here.

Question 5

My doctor has told me that I have arthrosis deformans in both knee joints, I'm only 23 year old. Pills and pure physical exercises did not help at all, so I decided one month ago to do the Qi Gong exercise “White Crane Rotates its Knees” twice every day. This Qi Gong exercise really helped to strengthen the muscles supporting my knee joints and improved the mobility of my knees. Please let me know which Qi Gong exercises of the “Shaolin Eighteen Lohan Hands” I should do additionally in order to cure that chronic disease or at least to ease the symptoms.

— Torsten, Germany


I am sorry to hear of your knee problem. But the good news is that knee problems can be overcome quite readily by practicing high level chi kung.

The crucial point about high level chi kung is not what you practice but how you practice it. In other words, the same exercise can be practiced at a low level or at a high level. The difference in levels depends much on the practitioner's skills, which in turns depends much on who has taught him.

“White Crane rotates Knees” is an excellent exercise to overcome knee problems. Other excellent exercises from Eighteen Lohan Hands are “Three Levels to Ground” and “Deep Knee Bending”. But it is important that these exercises must be practiced skillfully as chi kung. If you perform them as gentle physical exercise, though you may think they are and therefore call them chi kung, you may only succeed in relieving the symptoms.

It is also possible that the cause of your knee problem is not at your knees but somewhere else in your body. People with kidney problems or sexual inadequacy, for example, often have weak and painful knees. So, even if you practice the chi kung exercises above as chi kung, but at a low level, the effect may be strong enough just to relieve the pain at your knees, but not strong enough to remove the root cause of the problem. On the other hand, if you practice high level chi kung, interestingly, it does not really matter what exercise you perform, your resultant chi flow will eventually clear the root cause, overcome the pain at your knees as well as overcome other health problems.

Question 6

I want to join your intensive course in Toronto this year.

— Daniel, Canada


I am glad that you intend to attend my courses.

As the terms “intensive course” and “regional course” are sometimes mixed up, I would take this opportunity to give an explanation.

I offer two categories of courses — intensive courses and regional courses. Intensive courses are of a much higher level than regional courses, the fees are also much higher.

There are three types of intensive courses, namely

  1. Intensive Chi Kung Course, which runs for 5 days and the fee is US1000.
  2. Intwnsive Shaolin Kungfu Course, which runs for 7 days and the fee is US1500.
  3. Intensive Taijiquan Course, which runs for 7 days and the fee is US1500.

Intensive courses are normally held in Sungai Petani, Malaysia, but for special reasons some are also held elsewhere, like the Intensive Chi Kung Course in Sabah, the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and the Intensive Taijiquan Course in Toronto, Canada, and the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Frankfurt, Germany.

Regional courses are held in various parts of the world, such as in Spain, Portugal, England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Canada, the United States, Australia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. There are many types of regional courses which fall under three main categories:

(a) Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung.

  1. Generating Energy Flow.
  2. Massaging Internal Organs.
  3. Golden Shower.
  4. Developing Internal Force.
  5. Cosmic Breathing. (Dan Tian Breathing)
  6. Emerging with the Cosmos. (Sinew Metamorphosis)
  7. Eighteen Lohan Hands Part 1.
  8. Eighteen Lohan Hands Part 2.
  9. Chi Kung for Health.
  10. Chi Kung for Vitality.

(B) Wahnam Taijiquan

  1. Fundamentals and Internal Force.
  2. Pushing Hands.
  3. Striking Hands.
  4. Combat Application.

(C) Shaolin Kungfu

  1. Fundamentals and Internal Force.
  2. Combat Application on Strikes.
  3. Combat Application on Kicks.
  4. Combat Application on Felling and Gripping

Each regional course takes about 6 to 8 hours, and the fee is about US$ 250 per course, but there may be differences between regions. Often various regional courses are grouped as a package.

Question 7

Why is it that when I practice Ba Duan Jin chi kung I feel full of energy in the day but I cannot sleep at night? However, if I practice Ba Duan Jin with normal breathing (this is exercise and not chi kung according to your articles), I can sleep well at night. The same thing happens to me when I practice Tai Chi. If I only practice the Tai Chi form (this is exercise and not chi kung according to your articles) I can sleep well at night. But if I practice Tai Chi using form, energy and spirit together, I cannot sleep well at night.


Sleeping is Nature's way of charging you with cosmic energy. When you practice Ba Duan Jin or Tai Chi Chuan as chi kung, you are already charged with cosmic energy by your training, hence you do not feel sleepy.

However, if you still want to sleep, you can lie in bed and perform “Lifting the Sky” about 15 times. Then close your eyes and relax, and you may sleep like a baby.

But when you practice Ba Duan Jin or Tai Chi Chuan as physical exercise, you only work on your physical body which may make you tired, and you are not charged with cosmic energy. As you become tired and need to be charged with cosmic energy, you become sleepy.

Question 8

Does this mean that I cannot practcse your intensive chi kung because it might affect my sleeping at night?


Your conclusion is an example of “viewing the superficial but not understanding the depth.”

If you practice my Intensive Chi Kung Course, which is the course where the most advanced chi kung skills are taught, you can choose to sleep less or to sleep like a baby depending on your wish, and not on your need. You can sleep less and therefore have more time to do other things because you are already charged with a lot of energy and do not need the sleep to be recharged. You can enjoy sleeping like a baby because, although you do not need to sleep to be recharged, you can easily relax physically and mentally to go to sleep.

An analogy will make this interesting paradox clearer. Suppose you are a painter by profession. If you are a successful painter and have earned a lot of money from your paintings, you can choose to paint less because you do not need to sell more paintings, or to paint more because your economic security enables you to have more time for painting. Your choice to paint more or to paint less depends on your wish, and not on your need.

By the way, if you wish to take my Intensive Chi Kung Course you have to come to Malaysia in January 2006. Those that I offer in Toronto in November 2005 are regional chi kung courses.

Taijiquan sparring

Attempting free sparring without prior combat application training is a sure way to fight like children. Practicing combat sequences is an essential aspect of combat application training in Wahnam Taijiquan. Here Sifu Wong and his disciple, Sifu Goh Kok Hin, practiced Taijiquan combat application.


Selected Reading

Courses and Classes