July 2006 (Part 3)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I suffer from some kind of rheumatism. It started about 10 years ago. I have problems with my neck, feet and fingers. My way of life was without any dangerous things — no cigarettes, no alcohol, and much sport and healthy food. There are some blockages which doesn't let me be free. I tried with fasting but there are no results. I am looking for some advice and help. I've heard very good information about chi kung and its masters.
— Christopher, Poland
In Chinese, rheumatism is known as “wind and dampness”. It is caused by “damp energy” being locked inside your body with the result that vital energy cannot flow freely. This blockage of energy flow causes pain, which may move from one part of your body to another, and is figuratively referred to as “wind”.
Unlike the intellectual Westerners who would like to find out what caused the “dampness” and why the “wind” moves about, or why they are called “dampness” and “wind” and not something else, the Chinese are practical. They are more interested in removing the “dampness” and the “wind” rather than speculating over these intellectual questions.
An excellent way to overcome rheumatism, or “wind-dampness”, is to practice genuine and high level chi kung. To be intellectual, we would ask, “How it works?” Basically, vigorous chi flow flushes away the “damp energy”, irrespective of what caused the “damp energy” in the first place. Vital energy can now flow freely, hence removing the symptoms of “wind”.
Does it work? Of course, and I speak from years of personal experiences in helping hundreds of rheumatic patients overcome their problems.
I recall the inspiring case-history of one of my earliest students about 20 years ago. She was a street-hawker paddling fast food in Gurun, a small town in Malaysia near where I live. Due to her trade which required her to wash dishes frequently, she developed severe rheumatism. She paid $300 to attend my chi kung course, at a time when other chi kung teachers charged around $30 or taught for free. At that time, $300 was a lot of money, especially for a street-hawker.
When her friends asked her why she had paid so much money to learn from me, she said in her own words that the course was worth “a hundred times, a thousand times more”. She said that her rhematisc pains were so excruciating that she literally had to drag herself up the stairs of her house. After practicing for a few months what she had learnt, she had no more rheumatic pains and could run up the stairs easily!
I could have taught this woman free. But from my own experience, most of those who had health problems that I was sure practicing chi kung oculd overcome, and whom I taught free, did not practice consistently after learning from me. There were a few exceptions, and they recovered, but the majority preferred to live with their pain and illness rather than practice what they learned for free.
You may also learn chi kung from my books, but of course the effects are less powerful than learning from me or our certified Shaolin Wahnam instructors. In my opinion, acupuncture is the next best method after chi kung to overcome rheumatism. You have to consult a good acupuncturist. Like good chi kung masters, good acupunturists are rare today.
Food such as ginger, pepper and chili are effective in relieving or even overcoming rheumatism. But taking too much of such food may cause other problems.
Poland is very poor as regards to chi kung. There are some people who practice chi kung but there are no real masters. I am looking for some advice. Could you help me, please.?
Real chi kung masters are rare not only in Poland but everywhere in the world, including China. In the past too, chi kung masters were rare, but then not many people had the chance to practice chi kung. Those who had the rare opportunity to practice chi kung in the past, or Shaolin Kungfu, Taijiquan and other styles of kungfu, practiced the real arts, even though some of these might not be of a high level. Even at a low level, at least what they practiced were real chi kung and real kungfu.
Today the situation is different. A lot of people practice and teach chi kung and kungfu, but what they practice and teach is not genuine chi kung and kungfu, not even at a low level. Most of these practitioners do not realize this pathetic situation. Some of them honestly but mistakenly think they practice the genuine arts. Others may realize what they have been practicing or teaching is not genuine, but due to various reasons, such as their ego and vested interest, they vehemently deny this.
A legitimate question is what constitutes genune chi kung and genuine kungfu. By definition, chi kung is an art of energy. Hence, any art or practice that does not involve energy, or chi, is not genuine chi kung. Kungfu is a martial art. Hence, any art or practice that cannot be used for fighting is not genuine kungfu.
As a rough estimate, more than 80% of those who practice or teach chi kung today have no experience of chi at all. Many of them still ask, “What is chi?” If they have any personal experience of chi, they would not ask that question; they would have known from direct experience. As an analogy, if you have eaten a mango or seen a tiger, you would not ask what a mango or a tiger is; you would know from direct experience. Worse, many of these chi kung instructors do not even believe in chi! They say that chi is some esoteric term referring to some physical or mechanical functions!
More than 80% of those who practice or teach kungfu today cannot use their kungfu for fighting. Some of these practitioners are actually good fighters, but what they use in their fighting is not kungfu but Kick-Boxing, Boxing, Taekwondo or other martial systems. Worse, some of them, including some world known masters, explicitly say that kungfu forms cannot be used for fighting!
If you search the internet you can readily find many of such practitioners. In our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum recently there have been some lively discussions on such topics. One Taijiquan instructor, for example, advocates using Boxing and Wrestling techniques for combat in his Taijiquan because Taijiquan techniques, he claims, is ineffective. Another instructor, who teaches Taijiquan and chi kung, says that chi does not exist!
We in Shaolin Wahnam have benefited tremendously from our chi kung and kungfu practice, where chi and combat application are essential aspects, and we are dedicated to preserve them for prosterity. We do not want these wonderful arts to be lost. We are very clear on two points. We would pass these arts only to deserving students. On the other hand, we respect the rights of others practicing their arts the way they like and have no interest to convert them to our way.
If half the time one practices chi kung one keeps his chi flow gentle and swaying and the other half of the time the chi flow is more free, is there anything to worry or be careful about?
— Aaron, USA
The short answer is that there is no harm. Just enjoy your practice and don't worry unnecessarily.
In fact, don't worry at all. In your example, you did not make any mistake. But even if you had made some mistakes, there would not be harm because your chi flow would automatically clear the side-effect that the mistake might have caused.
Actually the short answer above is sufficient. For those interested, the following is a longer answer.
Many students worry unnecessarily. This is partly caused by mediocre chi kung teachers, especially those who teach gentle exercise instead of chi kung but they themselves may not be aware of it, who perhaps trying to cover up their own inadequacy, dramatize the side-effects of wrong chi kung practice. Many of such mediocre teachers also advise their students to pursue a puritan life, such as not taking sugar, coffee or cakes. Some even advise their students to abstain from sex.
Such a mistaken concept is quite pervasive in the West. An assuring fact is that if one could enjoy good food and wholesome sex as well as make some mistakes in his exercises without serious damage before learning chi kung, he should be able to do better after learning chi kung. Otherwise, why learn chi kung?
Practicing chi kung is safer than swimming or driving a car. Of course you have to first learn it correctly. Hence, you should differentiate between not worrying unnecessarily with not learning it correctly. They are two different issues. As you have learnt chi kung correctly, you need not worry unnecessarily when you practice. Even if you make some mistakes due to carelessness or forgetfulness, your resultant chi flow would be more than sufficient to erase the harmful side-effects.
This is different from someone who learns chi kung wrongly, such as from a book or an incompetent instructor. Practicing wrongly, which is different from making mistakes once a while due to carelessness or forgetfulness, would bring harmful side-effects. The more powerful the chi kung is, the worse would be the harmful side-effects.
On the other hand, even if you practice correctly but you worry unnecessarily, you may have harmful effects. In fact, if you worry when you practice, you are not practicing correctly. The instructions clearly state that the practitioner should not be worrying in his practice; he should enjoy himself.
You should also note that “not worrying” does not mean you do not pay attention to the instructions. You follow the instructions as best as you comfortably can, but you do not worry about whether what you are doing is perfect. Even when you realize that you made a mistake, you do not worry about it, taking comfort that your chi flow will erase the side-effects caused by the mistake. Of course you would correct the mistake the next time you practice.
Even though I have started my kung fu training when I was 15, that means 5 years ago, I realized that the training I have is nothing compared to the training you present in your books and, of course, through the internet.
Besides stretching, push-ups and other exercises of this kind, the only training I was doing, was to imitate some forms or movements or techniques such as blocks and grips, but not at a deep level. I have no idea what is behind all these. I can't see my benefits with that type of training. I am not sure if I am able to defend myself in real combat (in fact, I think I am not able to). So this is a sign telling me that something is going wrong.
— Dimitris, Greece
Your case, unfortunately, is the norm in kungfu training today. What you have described is what most kungfu students do. Not only such training does not bring benefits, it often brings harm. Students often tense their muscles during training, and this causes energy blockage with insidious harmful effects. When they practice sparring, they usually hurt one another, and the internal injuries are routinely left unattended to.
The attitudes they adopt, like “no pain no gain” in solo training, and “damaging your opponents (including your sparring partners) as much as possible”, are bad for their pyschological health. More alarming, such harmful training methods are used even by teachers regarded by the general public as authorities in their arts.
We in Shaolin Wahnam have dedicated ourselves to help arrest such degradation of kungfu, and to restore its former glory. We do so by disseminating knowledge through books and the internet, answer questions in this webpage as well as in our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum, and offering intensive courses and regular classes world-wide.
We know that ours is a difficult and delicate task, as those who teach debased forms of kungfu (and they are the majority) obviously do not like what we say, and we can and often are mis-construed as being boastful and arrogant. But we love our arts and have benefited so much from them that we are ready to dedicate ourselves to this difficult task of dispeling ignorance and restoring the glory of kungfu.
Reading your books and your answers on the internet I understood the importance of putting my own “goals” in my training. So here are my goals. Horse stance, learn the basic forms of hands, and the technique of “tiger-feet” (I don't know how to translate it to English).
Regarding the horse stance, I don't have specific goals like “I will stay in the horse stance for 5 minutes in 3 months”. It is internal force training so I think I will just practise every day, hoping that I'll do that at least for 2 or 3 years. I mean I don't aim at a specific duration. What is your opinion?
What you have described are not your goals, but some methods to reach certain goals. The most common goals of practicing kungfu are self-defence and good health. Other goals are vitality and longevity. Further goals are mind expansion and spiritual cultivation. Moreover, practicing genuine kungfu in a good school is a beneficial way to spend one's time and to socialize with worthy people.
Unfortunately, the way kungfu is normally practiced today does not enable students to achieve these goals. They are unable to use their kungfu for self-defence, and they routinely hurt themselves instead of becoming healthy. Building physical and emotional blockages due to their tensed and aggressive training does not contribute to vitality and longevituy, or mental expansion and spiritual cultivation. It is very unhealthy to spend time with people whose intention in their training is to punch and kick one another.
Many of these students started their kungfu career like you. They thought that by practicing the Horse-Riding Stance everyday they would develop internal force. They thought that by engaging in free sparring they would know how to defend themselves. But after practicing for some time, which may range from a few months to a few years, they are still far from their goals.
Worse, they are more unhealthy than before their training due to the muscular tension they habitually caused themselves and the injuries they often sustain in their free sparring. But the majority of them may not have realized this harm, and keep on training.
A few may contiune their deviated or debased training even though they realize their mistake. It is because they have been so long into their training, and some have become instructors themselves and have gained some reputation, that consciously or subconsciously they prefer to find justification in what they are doing. They often become very defensive, or aggressive, whenever it is suggested that their training might be incorrect.
This in fact is the norm nowadays, and what you intend to do is likely to lead you into this common situation. You may be dedicated to practice stance training for two or three years, but instead of deriving beneifts you may harm yourself because training without proper supervision it is likely that you would practice the stances wrongly. In the same way, despite your following my instructions in my book, you could practice the hand-forms, including the Tiger-Claw (what you call “tiger-feet”), wrongly.
How could you be wrong if you follow my instructions correctly? Let us take a very common example. In practicing the Horse-Riding Stance it is very important to be upright and relaxed. You know this instruction very well, and you try your best to be upright and relaxed. But in reality you would probably lean backward and tense your muscles, and you are not aware of this mistake. Hence, you derive harmful effects instead of benefits from your training.
You could avoid such mistakes if you have some goals in your training. For example, for your stance training, you can have a two-fold goal as follows. For each session, your immediate objective is to come out of it without feeling physically or mentally tensed. You stay at your stance, or stances, as long as you comfortably can. When you have completed your training session, access whether you are relaxed or tensed. If you are tensed, then you have not achieved your immediate objective. You should then review what went wrong during your stance training.
For the stance training as a whole, your objective is to practice it everyday for a period of time, say six months, so as to develop some internal force. Then you access whether you have achieve your objective. There may not be any instrument to measure internal force, but you can access it indirectly. Can you work longer without feeling tired? Can you understand more easily whatever you read? If you have sparring partners, do they say you have become more powerful?
If you set objectives and goals like these, your training will be more rewarding. You will be able to avoid the time-wasting and harmful side effects many students get nowadays from blind training.
Regarding the tiger-feet technique it is a matter that I am really seeking for your advice since I follow the method you provide in your book “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”.
This is a very common mistake. Many practitioners, including instructors, mistakenly think that if you have the techniques you will get the art.
A major reason for this mistake is confusing techniques with skills. You may have learnt the correct techniques, but you may not have the necessary skills to execute the techniques.
The following analogies will make this clear. You learn the best football techniques or the best surgery techniques from books and videos, but you may not play football or perform surgery well.
The “tiger-feet” you referred to is “Tiger Claw”.
I am studying piano and my fingers are extremely important. However, a famous piano teacher once said that a pianist should have strong enough fingers to hold his entirely body on them. That made me to start this training.
But my problem is the following. At the second level where we have to sink the fingers in a big bowl with beans I don't know if it is going to damage my fingers. Please can you tell me what the meaning of this exercise is? How does it work with the fingers? Is it possible to do internal damages if I make it carefully? I need to have my fingers still flexible and easy to move. Someone told me that after this exercise the connections between the hand and the finger are getting harder and harder.
There are many different methods to train Tiger Claws. Some methods are external, and some internal. In our school, we use both internal and external methods. Jabbing the fingers into a basin of beans is external training, practicing an exercise called “Fierce Tiger Cleanses Claws” is internal.
If you train Tiger Claws correctly, irresspective of whether you use internal or external methods, or both, you fingers will be stronger as well as flexible, which are excellent for playing the piano. But if you train wrongly, even though you have the right techniques, you will harm your fingers. They may, for example, be deformed, insensitive or clumsy. If you train on your own without a master's supervision, it is likely you will train wrongly.
I tried to proceed to the 3rd level where I have to do push-ups with tiger-foot but it was really difficult. I could barely do 2 or 3 three times, and I have been practising this more than a month. I know it is not much time at all, but I think that this 2nd level is very important to proceed to the pushups.
Your description suggests that you have trained wrongly. You should strengthen you arms as well as fingers before you do any push-ups with your fingers. You also need supplementary exercises like picking up hairs to keep you fingers sensitive and flexible. I would recommend that you stop your self-training before you cause serious harm to yourself.
- Counter against the Pull — Sifu Marcus and Others
- Green Dragon Crescent Moon Knife with Pattern Names
- The Three Secrets — Sifu Ronan, Sifu Michael Durkin, Adam and Kryds
- Free Sparring Galore
- Zen is Zen, Tao is Tao — Sifu Anthony Korahais
- The Practice of Taijiquan is a Daily Joy — Professor Javier Galve