May 2007 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I continue with my training and also with the theoretical and historical research of the art of Southern Siu Lam Gung Fu. There is so much interesting and important material in the classical manuals of the past that it has motivated me to learn Chinese and attempt to read them myself, as the translations available are far from the correct understanding, often translated by people with no actual gungfu experience.
— Sifu Pavel, Czech Republic
Congratulations for your own progress as well as your contribution in preserving and promoting the great teaching of your lineage directly from the great Shaolin masters, Sifu Wong Fei Hoong and Sifu Lam Sai Weng.
It is great if you can read the kungfu classics in Chinese. If you think I can be of any help, please don't hesitate to contact me.
You are right. There is a lot of knowledge and wisdom in classical kungfu manuals which can be rewardingly transferred to our daily living. Not only little has been translated, but, worse, much of the little that has been translated, often by writers without actual kungfu experience, is shallow and sometimes misleading. This applies not to kungfu only but also to other areas.
The most well-known examples are “yin-yang” and “wu-xing”. Countless people have written on these two terms, but many of them do not really know what they have written! Many writers, including experts, explain “yin” and “yang” as the two primordial forces in the universe, where “yin” is female, negative, dark, retrogressive, gentle and soft, and “yang” is male, positive, bright, progressive, forceful and hard.
“Wu-xing” is defined as the “Five Elements” of metal, water, wood, fire and earth, where metal destroys wood but is nourished by earth, water destroys fire but is nourished by metal, wood destroys earth but is nourished by water, fire destroys metal but is nourished by wood, and earth destroys water but is nourished by fire.
This is all the “experts” know, which also reveals what they don't know. It is surprising why of the millions of people who have read these explanations, hardly any ask how these explanations enable them to better understand their topics in question. How, for example, balancing female and male enables one to recover from illness, or how metal destroying wood enables him to be combat efficient.
Please refer to my books, “The Complete Book of Chinese Medicine” and “The Art of Chi Kung”, for a detailed explanation of these terms. But it suffices to mention here that “yin” and “yang” are not the primordial forces of the universe; they are just symbolic terms for two opposing yet complimentary aspects of reality. “Wu-xing” refers not to five elements, but to five archetypical processes.
Understanding yin-yang harmony, amongst countless other benefits, enables us to maintain good health besides aspiring to combat efficiency. Judging from thousands of martial artists who routinely hurt themselves in their training even before they encounter their first fight, show how sadly they have failed to understand yin-yang harmony.
Hence, your endeavor to learn Chinese so as to understand and then translate these texts correctly is admirable. However, I would like to say that while it is definitely a beautiful language worthy of the effort to learn it, Chinese is a difficult language and it demands much time and effort to learn it. You should, therefore, be prepared for the difficulties ahead. But if you can successfully practice Siu Lam Jing Jung (genuine, traditional Shaolin Kungfu), which is more demanding than learning a language, the difficulties in learning Chinese should not deter you. On the other hand, it is comforting to know that even if you did not know Chinese, you still could attain very high levels in kungfu and share its wonderful benefits with deserving students.
As Southern Chinese gungfu puts a lot of emphasis on developing yiu - kiu - ma (waist, bridges and stances), my questions will be this time directed to these aspects of the art.
It is illuminating that you mention “yiu-kiu-ma”, or “waist-bridges-stances”, in Hoong Ka (Hung Gar) Kungfu. For some reasons, many people, including many Hoong Ka practitioners, mistakenly regard Hoong Ka Kungfu as hard and external. Some instructors know that Hoong Ka Kungfu is also soft and internal at its advanced levels, but they don't know how or why.
Your Si-jo, Grandmaster Lam Sai Weng, mentioned “kong yau ping chai” and “noi ngoi seong sau” in his famous classics, “Taming the Tiger”, “Tiger-Crane Double Forms” and “Iron Wire”, though in line with the custom of his times, these terms were not elaborated on. These two terms hold the key to advanced levels in Hoong Ka or Southern Shaolin Kungfu.
It is worthy of note that although most people today refer to the style of kungfu passed down from Grandmaster Lam Sai Weng as Hoong Ka, the grandmaster himself referred to his kungfu style as “Siu Lam”, which is the Cantonese pronunciation for Shaolin.
“Kong yau ping chai” (in Cantonese pronunciation) literally means “hard-soft-together-complete”. It means that Hoong Ka Kungfu is not just hard, or just soft, or first hard and then soft, or vice versa. It is both hard and soft at the same time, though a skillful exponent may choose to emphasize one aspect over the other when desirable. It is a manifestation of yin-yang harmony.
“Noi ngoi seong sau” (again in Cantonese) literally means “internal-external-both-cultivate”. It does not mean that Hoong Ka Kungfu is first external, then internal. It means that when one trains Hoong Ka Kungfu, he trains both externally and internally. This is another manifestation of yin-yang harmony. Please take note that “kong yau ping chai” and “noi ngoi seong sau”, which are “hard and soft together” and “external and internal cultivation”, are practiced not just at the advanced levels but at all levels.
“Yiu-kiu-ma”, or “waist-bridges-stances”, relates to body movement, hand techniques and footwork, which constitute the three external harmonies. Together with the three internal harmonies of “jing-hei-sun” (“jing-qi-shen” in Mandarin), or “essence, energy, mind”, they constitute the six harmonies, which is often heard in kungfu philosophy but little understood.
By a skillful application of “waist-bridges-stances”, one can make his kungfu “soft”, with or without being internal. Suppose an opponent attacks you with a typical middle thrust punch. You sink back into a False-Leg Stance, rotate your waist, and “thap” or “lean” your arm with a tiger claw on the opponent's attacking arm, using the pattern “Single Tiger Emerges from Cave”. Please note that this movement involves the harmony of waist, arm and leg. You need only minimal force to neutralize his powerful attack.
Those who do not understand this application of “waist-bridges-stances” would need more strength to overcome a similar situation. They may block the attack with their arm, without rotating the waist or sinking back into a False-Leg Stance. This is meeting force with force. Smaller-sized persons or females may not be effective in blocking a powerful punch in this way.
They may partially overcome this lack of force by rotating their waist. In other words, instead of merely blocking, they glide the attack away by a circular movement of their waist with their arm firmly “locked” to their body. But this needs precise timing, and some force is still needed, whereas only minimal force is used when you apply all the three aspects of feet, body and hands.
Although the concept of “waist-bridges-stances” is important, it is not widely mentioned in kungfu classics because these aspects are usually of a transitional nature in both solo practice and combat application. For example, these aspects are crucial in executing a pattern like “Black Tiger Steals Heart”, but most commentators would talk about its completed form rather than its transitional movements. However, you can find a lot of information about “waist-bridges-stances” in the video series, Picture-Perfect Forms and Flowing Movements.
“Bow and arrow” stance (gung jin ma, chin gung hau jin) is often called “midnight noon stance” or “meridian stance” (ji ng ma). Can you please explain why?
“Ji ng ma” (“midnight noon stance” or “meridian stance”) is usually used in Southern Shaolin and other southern styles. In Northern Shaolin and other northern styles, it is often called “kung-jin ma” (“bow-arrow stance”), “chin kung hau jin” (“front bow back arrow”) or “kung pou” (“bow-step”).
In classical Chinese, a day is divided into 12 “hours”, i.e. one Chinese or classical hour is equal to two Western or modern hours. The twelve classical hours are not named 1, 2, 3 etc, but “ji”, “chou”, “jen”, “mou”, “shen”, “si”, “ng”, “mei”, “sheng”, “you”, shuit”, “hoi” (Cantonese pronunciation).
“Ji” hour is at midnight, which is equivalent to 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., “chou” hour is from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., etc. “Ng” hour is between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and “hoi” hour is between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.
If you mark the hours on a circle, like the sun going round the earth, the “ji” line which marks midnight, and the “ng” line which marks noon, fall on a straight line, like the twelve-hour hand and the six-hour hand on a clock-face. If you mark this “ji-ng” line on a globe for various places when the sun is at noon (and at midnight), you will have a set of meridians.
The Bow-Arrow Stance is called “ji-ng ma” (“midnight-noon-stance” or “meridian stance”) because the two feet form a straight line. It is illuminating that the term itself reveals that the version of the Bow-Arrow Stance performed in your school, as transmitted from the lineage of Wong Fei Hoong and Lam Sai Weng, and in our school, Shaolin Wahnam, was the one performed in the past, and is different from the popular version now performed by many other schools where the front foot and the back foot are not in line but slightly apart.
“Ji-ng ma” is sometimes called “ting-ji ma”, which means “ting-character stance”. The Chinese “ting” character or word is like the English letter “J”, with a short horizontal stroke above, a long vertical stroke down, and a hook at the end. This “ting” character describes the foot position of the feet in the stance, namely the front foot is hooked about 45 degrees inward, and the back foot is also hooked about 45 degrees inward. This was how kungfu exponents in the past practiced their Bow-Arrow Stance, different from the modern version in many schools where the front foot points forward and the back foot points sideway.
Footwork is obviously a very important part of the ma bou training. Can you please mention the most important footwork patterns with their respective Chinese names? In the classical texts we can meet such terms as yu mei bou (fish tail step), chat sing bou (seven stars step), biu ma (?), bik bou (?) etc.
“Ma-bou” refers to “stances” and “footwork”. Generally, stances refer to stationary postures, like the Horse-Riding Stance and the Bow-Arrow Stance, whereas footwork refers to transitional postures or movements.
I am not sure of “yu mei bou” (Fish Tail Step) but I believe it is like the Unicorn Step but with the back heel flat on the ground instead of raised up.
In my school, “chat sing bou” is a low Unicorn Step but with the back knee touching or almost touching the ground. In other schools, like Praying Mantis, “chat sing bou” is different. It is like a wide False-Leg Stance but with the front leg slantingly straight instead of bent. We call this “chin jin bou” or “Front Arrow Step”.
“Biu ma” or “biu bou” means “Shooting Stance” or “Shooting Step”. It refers to moving forward speedily like shooting an arrow, as in attacking an opponent quickly. It is usually accomplished by using a Unicorn Step followed by a Bow-Arrow Stance performed swiftly and smoothly in one movement. We use this step often in Shaolin Wahnam during combat sequence training when an opponent is some distance away.
“Bik bou” means “Pressing Steps”, and is used to press into an opponent. It can be accomplished in different ways. Two effective ways are to use “Forward Step” and “Rolling Step” with the Bow-Arrow Stance. The front leg should go deep into the opponent's stance.
“Seong bou” or “Forward Step” is to bring the back leg of any stance forward to be the front leg. Suppose you are at the right Bow-Arrow Stance. In “seong bou”, you move your back left leg forward into a left Bow-Arrow Stance or any other stances.
The reverse is “thui bou” or “Backward Step”. Here you move your front leg of any stance to be the back leg. From a right Bow-Arrow Stance, you move your front right leg backward to a left Bow-Arrow Stance or any other stances.
“Lau bou” or “Roll Step” is to bring the back leg forward, then the front leg forward. From a right Bow-Arrow Stance, you bring your back left leg close to your front right leg, then bring your front right right leg forward into a right Bow Arrow Stance or any other stances where your right leg is in front. Reversely you may also “roll” back.
“Tai bou” or “Lead Step” is to move your front leg forward, followed by your back leg from any stance to any stance. From a right Bow-Arrow Stance, you move your front right leg forward, then your back left leg follows to a right Bow Arrow Stance or any other stance. It is also called “tor bou” or “Drag Step”. Reversely, you may also “Lead Backward” or “Drag Backward”.
“Tow bou” or “Steal Step” is like moving forward into a Unicorn Step but placing the back leg behind, instead of in front of, the other leg. Suppose you are at a right Bow-Arrow Stance. Move your back left leg forward and place it behind your right leg with your left knee at the bend of your right knee, and your left foot in front with the heel raised.
In “shi bou” or “Mouse Step” an exponent moves in slowly and cautiously, frequently using the four-six steps. In ”sheai yin bou” or “Snake Form Step” he moves in swiftly but like a snake. Instead of moving forward in a straight line, he moves in a circular way forward.
Can you please explain the following sayings, which explain the concept of “bridges” and “stances” in Southern systems? Are there any other important concepts?
kiu loi kiu seung gwo, ma lai ma faat biu (qiao lai qiao shang guo, ma lai ma fa biao)
kiu loi kiu seung gwo, mou kiu jih jouh kiu (qiao lai qiao shang guo, wu qiao zi zao qiao)
kiu loi kiu seung gwo, mou kiu sung seui lau (qiao lai qiao shang guo, wu qiao cong shui liu) - here I am not sure about the last part, as I do not know the correct characters for sung seui lau (cong shui liu) and I only guess. I did not find this proverb anywhere else except you webpage, but I really like it.
These expressions are similar, although they have different emphasis. They describe the main principles in the applications of “bridges” and stances in Hoong Ka Kungfu and other southern systems. “Bridges” refer to the forearms. They are called bridges because they are the main connections with opponents.
Word by word, “kiu loi kiu seung gwo, ma lai ma faat biu” is “bridge-come-bridge-above-travel, horse-come-horse-express-shoot” which may be non-sense to many people who don't understand Chinese. Figuratively, the saying means that when an opponent attacks, “lean” your arm against his attacking arm and counter-attack. When he moves in with his stance, you move swiftly into his stance to put him in an awkward position to defend.
Suppose an opponent attacks with a right “Black Tiger Steals Heart” in a left Bow-Arrow Stance, which is a mid-level punch representing almost any attack. Instead of moving away or blocking head-on, “lean” your left “Single Tiger” at a left False-Leg Stance on his right attacking arm, and immediately move your left leg forward into a left Bow-Arrow Stance in such a way that your left leg “hooks” his left leg, and your left knee presses at his left knee, making it difficult for him to move forward or retreat, and simultaneously drive your right “Black Tiger” into his heart.
This technique is simple and profound. Executed by a skillful exponent, it is a combat-ending move. In fact, this is a favorite technique of my sifu, Uncle Righteousness, helping him to earn this enviable title in kungfu circles.
“Kiu loi kiu seung gwo, mou kiu jih jouh kiu” is “bridge-come-bridge-above-travel, no-bridge-self-make-bridge”. It is the same as the above saying except that instead of emphasizing footwork in the second part of the saying, the emphasis is on creating your own “bridge” if the opponent withdraws his arm or any connecting part.
In the example above, if your opponent withdraws his attacking arm as you “lean” your tiger-claw on him, your press in with your left tiger-claw “taming” his right hand, or his left hand, or both, and simultaneously drive in your right “Black Tiger” using the same footwork.
The third saying, “kiu loi kiu seung gwo, mou kiu sung seui lau” is the one we use in our school. Word by word, it is “bridge-come-bridge-above-travel, no-bridge-smoothly-water-flow”. Figuratively, it means that when an opponent attacks, you follow in along his attack to counter-attack maintaining the “bridges”. But if the “bridges” are broken, you follow in to counter-attack too, flowing smoothly with the opponent's momentum. The second part hides a secret, obvious to those who have been initiated but puzzling to the uninitiated. It is one of the many ways of “hiding secrets in the open”.
There is no fixed interpretation for the second part, but an initiated practitioner would know what to do according to the situation, which may have countless variations. Herein lies its beauty. Suppose your opponent grips your left forearm as you “lean” your “Single Tiger” on his attacking arm. Following his momentum, you not only release the grip but also “close” both his hands and drive a “Black Tiger” into his heart. Or, he leans back and executes a side kick as you “lean” on his initial attack. Following his momentum, you deflect his kick, move in and also drive a “Black Tiger” into him. In both variations, you flow with the opponent's momentum, which is the essence of the second part of the saying.
As in the case of “waist-bridges-stances”, although footwork is very important, it is not frequently described in classics or in pictures. It is mainly because footwork is of a transitional nature. Most explanation, in words or pictures, usually focuses on the completed forms.
Could you tell us what book, or books, you are currently working on?
— Cha-muir, Canada
I am not writing any books at the moment but I have some completed manuscripts ready for publication, and some unfinished manuscripts waiting to be completed.
Of the many books and manuscripts I have written, the one I myself consider my own masterpiece is “In Quest of Cosmic Reality”, which is a translation and commentary of Asvaghosha's great work, “The Awakening of Faith in Mahayana”. Asvaghosha, living in the first century in India, was the 11th Patriarch directly from the Buddha, Mahakasyapa being the first, and Bodhidharma the 28th.
Surprising it may be to many people, Asvaghosa's classic, which reveals great cosmic truths, is incredibly short, consisting of only a few pages in its Chinese translation. The original Sanskrit text, which is now lost, is very short too. Both Sanskrit and Chinese are concise languages. Moreover, Asvaghosha's classic was not meant to be a self-help manual, but a concise recording of fundamentals for the initiated, where a single word may need a few paragraphs to explain. My book, which is basically an explanation of and elaboration on Asvaghosha's great teaching, is the thickest I have written. I have completed this manuscript many years ago, but am waiting for the right time to have it published.
Three of the manuscripts I have started many years ago but are unfinished are “The Wisdom of the Heart Sutra”, “The Diamond Sutra” and my autobiography which I have tentatively entitled “The Way of the Master”. The Heart Sutra is a very concise work, consisting only about 162 words in Chinese, yet it explains the whole essence of Mahayana Buddhism. The Diamond Sutra is a fantastic classic recording the Buddha's teaching on the Great Void, which in modern terms may be translated as Form and Energy. In my autobiography I describe my experiences in learning and teaching our Shaolin Wahnam arts, including interesting stories of Uncle Righteousness and Sifu Ho Fatt Nam.
In addition, I shall write some books on the I Ching, the Tao Te Ching, chi kung as practiced by past masters, as well as combat applications of Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan. The main reason why I have not published my completed manuscripts, continued my unfinished manuscripts or continued to write more books, is because I do not have any capable person at present to handle my book business. Once this is well taken care of, I shall be very happy to produce more books, which I am sure will benefit many people.
I was taught the system of qigong called Six Secret Words by a renowned qigong master. He recognized that I had two blockages in my neck and spine. For five months I practiced Six Secret Words every day without any positive effects.
I visited a healer/clairvoyant/medium who said he could remove the physical causes of my blockages but that the mental would have to be worked on by me. Since then after performing Six Secret Words and standing still I experience what seems to be Self-induced Chi-flow as described in your books.
I sometimes get disillusioned by Six Secret Words as it takes a long time. I have now discovered that just Lifting the Sky and Carrying the Moon (from The Art of Chi Kung) and Abdominal Breathing give me the same results every time.
I can even induce chi flow with just Abdominal Breathing. Should I continue with Six Secret Words or do your exercises which seem to give the same results but using a lot less time and space (an important issue in a small apartment!).
— Robert, Sweden
You are right in your judgment. “Six Secret Words” chi kung takes too long a time to practice and its result may not be strong enough to overcome your problems. Generally, “Six Secret Sounds” qigong works on internal organs, but if your energy blockage is at your muscles or bones, as it is in your case, this type of qigong may not be suitable.
Secondly the sounds have to be pronounced correctly. Its correctness is not just in its phonetic itself, but also in its tone, loudness and vibration frequencies. Take the word “xi” for example. This same word can be pronounced in countless different ways which may affect different organs differently.
More seriously, if one practices “Six Secret Sounds” chi kung incorrectly, it may harm his internal organs insidiously. And due to the fact that the same word can be pronunced differently often without the practitioner knowing, the chance of wrong practice is high.
Self-induced chi flow generated by “Lifting the Sky” or “Carrying the Moon” not only do not have the above disadvantages, they also have benefits that “Six Secret Sounds” chi kung may not have. One may also practice “Lifting the Sky” or “Carrying the Moon” incorrectly, but it is not as likely as in “Six Secret Sounds” and also the side-effects, if it is indeed practiced wrongly, are not so serious. Moreover, the resultant chi flow will cleanse the side-effects away.
One big benefit that self induced chi flow has but “Six Secret Sounds” chi kung does not, is that correct diagnosis is necessary in “Six Secret Sounds” so that a practitioner can make the right sound to generate energy in the right organ system. If the diagnosis is incorrect, this type of chi kung may not work even when the technique is performed correctly. Self-induced chi flow does not need this requirement. In fact, diagnosis is not even needed! Even if your energy blockage is not at your neck and spine as diagnosed, induced chi flow will spontaneously find the blockage and overcome it. This may sound ridiculous to some people unfamiliar to chi kung philosophy, but it is true.
Indeed, it is because of this natural characteristic of chi flow that helps to overcome so-called incurable diseases. Some diseases, like diabetes and allergies, are regarded as “incurable” because Western doctors do not know their causes. So they resort to relieving their symptoms. Chi kung masters also do not know the causes, but so long as they can help their students generate a sufficiently powerful chi flow regularly, the chi flow will clear the energy blockage where it is, and restore the natural functioning of the student's body systems, which will result in him regaining good health.
The descriptions you gave indicate that you have been practicing induced chi flow correctly. Congratulations. It is not easy to have such results by merely learning from my books. Just carry on with what you have been doing. Not only you will overcome your health problems you mentioned, but also overcome other health problems that you may not know. It will also give you other benefits like improving your vitality and mental freshness.
I would suggest that you leave out Abdominal Breathing, because you may make mistakes which you do not know and these mistakes may have serious adverse side-effects. As you are already getting good results from “Lifting the Sky” and “Carrying the Moon”, it is unwise to risk yourself with possible wrong practice of Abdominal Breathing.
Remember that techniques are techniques, i.e. they are means to some ends, and not the ends themselves. This is an important point many practitioners fail to realize. In other words, you practice “Lifting the Sky”, Abdominal Breathing or any other chi kung exercises not for the sake of the exercises themselves but for the benefits they give, which for most people are good health, vitality and longevity.
I live in Miami, Florida in the United States. I've always wanted to practice Shaolin Kung Fu. However I feel that most places I've visited do not have the intense and in-depth training that I seek. I've bought your book “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu” and thus I am very aware of “Flowery Fists and Embroidery Kicks”. I would not like to waste my time or energy learning Kung Fu, and never advance past the state of childhood in physical strength, mental acuity, agility and reflexes, and philosophy. If you could advise me what would be the best method to go about finding a good teacher in Florida, I would greatly appreciate it.
— Chris, USA
It is wise to spend some time and effort searching for a good teacher, especially when many kungfu schools today are teaching “flowery fists and embroidery kicks” or kungfu forms but Kick-Boxing sparring.
More importantly, you should ensure that the training in the school you have chosen would not harm you physically and psychologically. It may sound odd, but actually today many martial art students not only do not know how to defend themselves (if they do they would not be routinely punched and kicked in sparring), their training is detrimental to their health.
My webpage, Qualities of a Good Master, will provide you with very helpful information on how you can search for a good teacher or school. On the other hand, having found a good teacher, you have to prove yourself worthy for him to accept you.
One of our best teachers in Shaolin Wahnam, Sifu Anthony Korahais, is teaching in Florida. You would be able to learn from him how to develop internal force as well as apply kungfu for combat — two essential features of good kungfu not found in most kungfu schools today.
A few students travel a few hundred miles regularly to learn from Sifu Anthony Korahais. His website is at http://www.FlowingZen.com. His contact particulars are Tel: 904-571-8240 and E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Other Shaolin Wahnam teachers can be found at https://www.shaolin.org/general/instructors-list.html.
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- Working out Combat Sequences from Specialized Kungfu Sets
- Learning a Variety of Weapon Sets