March 2006 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
When I first decided to study kung fu at the age of twelve, I bought your book, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”, to search for any valuable insights and advice that you might have before I began instruction under a sifu.
As you were a master in the traditional sense, I was very happy to have found your book. I would have been even happier if I could take instruction from you, and I felt as if I was embarking on a great, exciting journey that would ultimately result in a self-transformation. I felt that I could change from an unhappy, aggressive child to a peaceful, healthy kung fu practitioner. Now, six years later, I am not so sure of my results.
— William, USA
Your case is actually very common and reveals the deplorable situation of kungfu today, but you are one of a brave few who have not given up a childhood dread but attempt to find a solution. Whether you can realize your dream will now depend on how determined and able you will act on the solution I am about to offer you. But first I shall answer or comment on the points you have raised.
You had a good start but for various reasons probably beyond your control at that time, you did not follow my advice through. Had you done so you would have changed from an unhappy, aggressive child to a peaceful, healthy kungfu practitioner, as many of my students have done so.
If you go to the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum at http://wongkiewkit.com/forum/ you may read some of their stories in their own words. The stories may not overtly tell the actual process of their transformation, but you can clearly deduce that they were unhappy and aggressive before, but now they are peaceful and healthy as the result of practicing kungfu.
My advice can be divided into five parts.
- Have a sound understanding of the art you are going to practice.
- Set your aims and objectives.
- Find a master, or at least a competent instructor, who can and is willing to teach you to achieve your aims and objectives.
- Practice diligently according to what the master or instructor asks you to, and not according to what you think is right.
- Periodically assess how well, or badly, you have attained your aims and objectives.
You have followed parts 1 and 2, and possibly part 4, but not parts 3 and 5.
I had taken courses at a kwoon in my city, and to my dismay, had found that their forms, though challenging and beautiful to watch, were not taught in a way as to allow them to be used for self-defense.
Further, when my safety was threatened and I had need of my training, I was sad to say that I was unable to face up to the challenge.
I am uncertain as to what caused this problem, but it seems that I cannot lay all the blame on my training; while it is true that my instructors did not really teach sparring, it is also true that I was not the best of students.
This is your first and most serious mistake. It is also the mistake made by most people who hope to be a real kungfu practitioner but fail.
You trained in a kwoon, or school, which teaches beautiful kungfu forms but no self-defence. Even if you are an excellent student and your teacher an excellent teacher, you will end up a master of beautiful kungfu forms but without self-defence.
This is inevitable. It is no surprise. The real surprise is that most of the students and some of the instructors, including "masters", do not realize this simple fact. ("Masters" here refer to those who have mastered what they practice, and in this case beautiful kungfu forms.)
Put in mathematical symbols, if you dedicate yourself to practicing X, you may master X, but you may not be proficient in Y.
In your case here, X is kungfu forms, and Y is self-defence using kungfu. In the case of many other people, X may be the external forms or the theoretical knowledge of yoga, Zen or other types of meditation, and Y may be the practical benefits of these arts.
In other words, one may have spent years in practicing or even mastering the external forms as well as the theoretical knowledge of kungfu, yoga, Zen and other arts, but he may still be sickly, weak, dull-minded and unable to defend himself in sparring or actual combat. He may demonstrate beautiful kungfu forms and talk profoundly on kungfu history and philosophy, yet inadequate in self-defence, good health and spiritual development. Indeed, the great majority of "kungfu" practitioners today fall into this category.
I was somewhat frustrated, and decided to leave the school. Still, my inability to defend myself has continued to haunt me, and though I considered taking other martial arts, I must say that in my heart, there is only place for kung fu. When I look upon such heroes as Yue Fei, Huo Yuenjia, Wong Feihung, and Fong Shiyu, I understand that such people could not have risen to such heights from taking any other martial art.
There are many people like you. They were inspired by the philosophy and legends of kungfu, especially Shaolin Kungfu, and had dreams of becoming proficient in it. But after practicing what they think is kungfu for many years, they find that it does not give them the results what kungfu is supposed to give, such as combat efficiency and good health.
They become greatly frustrated when they find out from experience that they cannot defend themselves against practitioners of other styles like Karate, Taekwondo and Kick-Boxing even when these practitioners have practiced only for a few months. What they can do well is to demonstrate beautiful kungfu forms, or what past masters called “flowery fists and embroidery kicks”.
Some kungfu practitioners practice sparring, but what they use are not kungfu techniques but techniques borrowed from other martial systems. Not only they become frustrated for their inability to use kungfu techniques, they find that they sustain internal injuries instead of having good health.
These kungfu practitioners often feel betrayed. But what they don't realize is that they have not practiced genuine, traditional kungfu; they only have practiced external kungfu forms.
Our school, Shaolin Wahnam, is set up to address this deplorable situation kungfu is facing today. It is a delicate issue. While we are sincere in wanting to help those who want to be helped, including "masters", it is easy to interpret our sincere effort as belittling other schools, despite our frequent mention that we respect other schools and systems even when they differ drastically from ours.
As a further step to prevent kungfu from being a laughing stock amongst other martial artists, and to restore it to its former greatness, I intend to offer courses to practitioners, especially instructors and "masters", of other kungfu styles to help them to use their own kungfu styles for self-defence, good health and spiritual development. In other words, they need not practice Shaolin Wahnam kungfu; after the course they can practice and teach their own kungfu but with kungfu combat and spiritual cultivation.
They do not even have to mention that they have learnt from Shaolin Wahnam. As far as I know, an offer of such a scale is unprecendented in kungfu history, although some great masters in the past had done so on a private basis.
I would recommend that you apply to attend my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course. Please see Intensive Kungfu Course for details. Or if you practice another kungfu style and wish to continue with it, you can apply to the new intensive kungfu course that I shall announce on my website soon. Many people may find it hard to believe, but you will not only learn but actually experience at the course itself internal force, combat application using kungfu techniques, and spiritual joys.
I must apologize for my long entry. It is just that I have never really told anyone about this, and while I am sorry to burden you with this uninteresting story, I really must ask you for help. Ever since the day that I failed, I have been harboring gnawing, unreasonable doubts that kung fu cannot work, that it is an obsolete, antiquated system. Even though I know this is not true, I still cannot find any masters to support this claim (and to re-start my martial journey).
You need not apologize. In fact I like your long e-mail and questions. You have taken the trouble to write not only clearly and grammatically but also respectfully — qualities, surprisingly, that many other people do not show when they write for help.
Moreover, you speak for many people. Many people will benefit from reading the answers to your questions.
It was no surprise that your so-called kungfu did not work. It was not genuine kungfu, although the kungfu forms you practiced were genuine. It was “flowery fists and embroidery kicks”. You never learned and practiced sparring. That was why you could not defend yourself. The fault was not in kungfu, the fault was in your training.
Genuine, traditional kungfu (of any style) can certainly be used for fighting. I speak from direct experiences — the experiences of my teachers, myself as well as my students and their students. In Shaolin Wahnam, we do not glorify fighting, but we speak with conviction when we say that kungfu is highly combat efficient.
My first sifu, Uncle Righteousness, earned his honorable nickname due both to his excellent fighting ability as well as his sense of righteousness. My other sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, was a professional Muay Thai fighter before he gave it up for kungfu, and he remained undefeated throughout despite being challenged by many masters of different martial arts. I myself was engaged in actual fighting, including attacks by multiple attackers, and managed to come out unhurt. Some of my students were international sparring champions in other martial arts before they learned from me; they wouldn't have learnt kungfu from me if it were ineffective for combat.
I recently found a traditional Tai Chi master in the Chinatown of my city, but he is quite old, and has suffered an accident that has hurt his health greatly. I feel that it is too late for me now, as I am already in college and stuck in a small town where the only martial arts are Karate, Taekwondo, and arts like Muay Thai and Boxing.
It is not too late if you are really determined. In fact you are very young. Many of my students started learning kungfu from me when they were two or three times your age, and they could easily handle sparring partners half or one third their age.
I do not mean to be presumptuous, but I doubt the old Tai Chi master could help you to fulfill your dream. I have many students who come from the city you mention, and they reported a lack of good kungfu masters, which is no surprise as genuine kungfu masters who have internal force, use kungfu for combat and cultivate spiritually are very rare today.
One student in particular combed the said Chinatown in search of kungfu masters. To his disappointment he could not find even an ordinary instructor to teach him external kungfu forms, which I asked him to do before he could attend my intensive kungfu course. As a result he learned kungfu forms from my book.
But you should see this old Tai Chi master and learn from him to find out for yourself whether he can help you actualize your dream. Irrespective of the outcome, you must be respectful to him. You should also be respectful to your former teacher who taught you kungfu forms. And irrespective of the outcome too, you should apply to attend my intensive kungfu course for comparison. If you find this old master is more suitable to you, stay with him and treasure him like a gem.
I want to know if it is truly possible for me to attain even a small portion of the skill that the heroes of old had, and if it is still possible for me to achieve my original goal of self-cultivation.
Certainly it is possible. It is also possible that you will achieve not only your original goal, but find genuine, traditional kungfu more wonderful that you have ever dreamed it possible.
While we place much importance to combat application in our kungfu training, to be able to fight well is actually low in our priority. Considering that fighting rarely happens nowadays, if you train an hour a day just to be a good fighter, it would be a very poor use of your time.
Then why do we in Shaolin Wahnam place much importance in combat application? It is a paradox, not an irony. This is because by training combat application, we develop qualities like mental clarity, calmness, quick decision making, sharp observation, reflexive responses, fluidity of movement, stamina, agility as well as comradeship, co-operation and compassion, which we apply to our daily living. These qualities can also be developed by other means, like set practice and force training, but it is through combat application that their development is most effective.
In some cases we even have glimpses of Cosmic Reality, or are in touch with God in Western terms. Anthony, one of my inner-chamber disciples, mentioned that he had more experiences of Zen (or Cosmic Reality) while sparring than while in meditation. It would be difficult for most people to believe, or even to understand, such achievements are possible in combat application.
I am also curious as to what you think went wrong from my account, as I am unable to correct my mistakes time after time. I stagnate, staying at my current skill level for at least two-three years.
You did not learn from the right teacher. If you learn from a teacher who only teaches singing, you will learn singing, and know nothing about dancing.
Similarly if you learn from a teacher who only teaches kungfu forms, you will learn how to perform kungfu forms, and know nothing about sparring or fighting. You will also know nothing about internal force and spiritual joys.
I want to know if there are any reputable kung fu schools that you know of in my city that teach traditional Chinese martial arts.
I do not know the names of these schools, but I am sure there are a few, if not many in your city. The important point many people may not pay attention to is not whether they teach traditional Chinese martial arts but how they teach these arts.
Most of these schools in your city as well as everywhere in the world today teach only the external forms of Chinese martial art. Some schools teach sparring but what they use for their sparring is not kungfu techniques but techniques borrowed from other martial arts like Karate, Taekwondo and Kick-Boxing.
Very, very few schools today anywhere in the world teach internal force and combat application of Chinese martial arts. Fewer still teach Chinese martial arts as spiritual cultivation.
I have begun to mentor a younger kid (13 years old) who much resembles myself at that age. I want to start him on the martial way, but I cannot find any good instructors or training halls. I do not want my sidai to fail like I did, and I want him to be a good, virtuous gentleman and master of kung fu. He himself desires this also, but as I am unskilled and unworthy to be called even his sihing, I can only point him in the right direction.
Although you intention is good, yours is a situation of the blind leading the blind. You should find your own direction first, and only after your direction has successfully led you to your vision, you can then point it out to him.
Guiding a young kid calls for much moral responsibility. Giving guidance or advice when you yourself are unsure of the outcome is being irresponsible.
I have a disciple who lives in your city who may help you if you succeed in persuading him to do so. His name is Eugene, and his contact particular is his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is there music that would help me to become more centered during my Long Fist sessions?
— Truebodo, Hong Kong
If you wish to practice Long Fist for combat, force training or spiritual cultivation, you should listen to the music of your heart or the music of Zen, and don't worry about other music or anything else. It will not only make you more centred, it will also give you other wonderful benefits — benefits that you may not have thought possible. If you listen to ordinary music, irrespective of its type, it will distract you.
But if you wish to practice Long Fist for demonstration, you should play some classical Chinese music with a fast tempo that goes along with the speed of your Long Fist performance. You may also use fast Western or other types of music with a fast tempo, but it may miss the cultural flavour. However, if you play slow music, irrespective of whether it is classical or modern, Chinese or foreign, it would not be suitable with the speed of Long Fist performance.
- Carry Tiger Back to Mountain in Picture Series
- Great Kungfu is a Process of Spiritual Cultivation
- The Spirit of the Dragon
- Cloud Hands with Force and Speed
- Experiencing the Process of Composing a Kungfu Set
- Remarkable Recoveries
- Your Course was Worth Ten Times I Paid for it — Patrick Collins Chesser