October 2007 (Part 3)


Shaolin Kung Fu

For those who are already fluent in the basic combat sequences, one way to bring combat to a higher level is to substitute the prescribed patterns with appropriate patterns from their specialized sets. For example, instead of using “Black Tiger Steals Heart” as in Combat Sequence 1, you may substitute it with “Hungry Tiger Snatches Goat” from the Tiger-Crane Set.

Question 1

The first question concerns variations and surprised counters in combat sequences. When I initiate a sequence in solo practice, I sometimes pause mid-way and wonder how I would react if the responder does not react according to the sequence. I find that I can react if I imagine top, middle, bottom or side attacks coming from the front, but it is more difficult if the imaginary responder side-steps and attacks from the side.

— Zhang Wuji, Singapore


When an opponent, imaginary or real, side-steps and attacks from a side, your response is the same as if he were in front except that you have to make an alignment adjustment. Suppose you are implementing Combat Sequence 1. (Actually any sequence will do, but Sequence 1 is chosen for simplicity.) Instead of responding with “Single Tiger” to your “Black Tiger”, followed by his “Black Tiger”, your opponent side-steps to your left and counters with a “Poisonous Snake”.

For you, instead of straight-away retreating your front left leg into a left False-Leg Stance, you move your back right leg a small step diagonally forward to your right for the alignment adjustment, and then retreat your front left leg into a left False-Leg Stance to thread away his “Poisonous Snake” with your left “Golden Dragon”, and counter with a “Black Tiger” if you wish to continue with Sequence 1, or with a “Poisonous Snake” if you wish to change to Sequence 2, or with a “Precious Duck” if you wish to change to Sequence 3 or 4.

If you wish to bring the combat to a level higher, after threading with “Golden Dragon”, instead of moving your front left leg forward, you move your back right leg forward to a right Bow-Arrow Stance and change to any one of Combat Sequences 5 to 8.

You may bring the level of combat even higher by changing into any one of the Sequences 9 to 12, or still higher by changing into any one of the Sequences 13 to 16. The procedure is as follows. After threading with “Golden Dragon”, you counter with “Happy Bird Hops up Branch” to change to Sequence 9, or with “White Horse Present Hoof” to change to Sequence 10, or with “Yellow Oriole Drinks Water” to change to Sequence 11, or with “Naughty Monkey Kicks Tree” to change to Sequence 12.

To change to any one of Sequences 13 to 16, after threading you can fell your opponent using “Lead Horse Back to Stable” if he uses a left leg mode. If he uses a right leg mode, you would fell him with “Fell Tree with Roots”. Or you may use “Farmer Hoes Rice Field” or “Fierce Tiger Pushes Mountain”.

The same principles apply if your opponent side-steps to your right, except that you have to make the necessary adjustments. Instead of responding with a left “Golden Dragon”, it would be more advantageous to use a right “Golden Dragon”. The procedure is as follows. Move your front left leg a small step diagonally backward to a right False-Leg Stance in good alignment and good spacing with your opponent, and respond to his “Poisonous Snake” with your right “Golden Dragon”.

If you wish to continue with any of Sequences 1 to 4, you move your back left leg forward to a left Bow-Arrow Stance. Remember to cover your opponent as you make your leg adjustment. If you wish to continue with any of Sequences 5 to 8, you move your front right leg forward to a right Bow-Arrow Stance. Also remember to cover your opponent as you move forward to attack. You can do so with your left thread hand. If you wish to continue with any of Sequences 9 to 16, make the necessary adjustments.

After some time, you will find that you may not need to first defend against your opponent's attack from a side, then counter-attack. You can move straight to the counter. For example, instead of first threading away his “Poisonous Snake” with your “Golden Dragon”, then counter-attacking with “Happy Bird”, you can straight away counter with “Happy Bird” as he attacks with “Poisonous Snake”. The same principles apply with any of the counter-attacks you choose to use.

After you have been fluent with these counters, you can bring the combat level still higher by using techniques from your specialized set. The principles are the same, you just change the patterns, though sometimes you have to make appropriate adjustments. For example, instead of responding with “Black Tiger”, “Happy Bird” or any of the counters found in Combat Sequences 1 to 16, you may use “Fierce Tiger Descends Mountain” or “Single Legged Hungry Crane”.

Question 2

Is it advisable to practice all the possible variations or surprised counters I can think of? I thought I should not since variations can come in all forms and in countless permutations, and I may be training myself to be rigid as a result instead of being spontaneous in my reactions. How can I train for the countless permutations in combat using my combat sequences?


Here is where “smart training” and “water-buffalo training” make a big difference.

Let us suppose your opponent side-steps and counters with a “Poisonous Snake” as in the examples above. You make the foot adjustment and counter with another “Poisonous Snake”. Once you can counter this top attack well, it does not matter what hand-forms and stances he uses you still can counter his attack.

Suppose he uses a leopard fist instead of a snake palm, and a Unicorn Step instead of a Bow-Arrow Stance (in a pattern called “Angry Leopard Charges at Fire”), you still can thread his attack using “Golden Dragon” and counter with “Poisonous Snake”.

Next, you decide to use “no-defence-direct-counter” instead of “first-defence-then-counter”. Once you have the basic skills, it does not matter whether he uses “Poisonous Snake”, “Angry Leopard” or any other attacks, you can still counter with “Happy Bird Hops up Branch” or any counters from Sequences 1 to 16. You may also counter with techniques from your specialized set.

What if your opponent side-steps and counters with kicks, throws or grips? The same principles apply, but of course you have to make the necessary adjustments. Suppose he executes a side kick. You respond with “Lohan Strikes Drum”, followed with “Dark Dragon Enters a Well” or any suitable counters.

Suppose he attempts to throw you with “Felling Tree with Roots”. You respond with “Butterfly Palms”. Once you have understood the basic principles and have the necessary skills, it does not matter what types of side kicks, or in fact any kicks, or what types of throws, you would be able to respond correctly.

At first you may be hesitant when your opponent uses an attacking technique that you have not trained in. But with systematic practice, your response will be correct and spontanous. The Sixteen Basic Combat Sequences in our Shaolin Kungfu (and the Twelve Basic Combat Sequences in our Wahnam Taijiquan) provide the necessary skills and techniques to counter all archetypical attacks. When you have mastered them, you will be able to counter any attack.

Let us say he holds his fists near his head and thrusts out his toes at you, as Muay-Thai fighters and Kick-Boxers often do. Take it as a frontal kick at middle level, which it is. In our basic 16 combat sequences thiis is represented as “White Horse Presents Hoof”. So move back a step and strike his kicking leg with a “Single Whip”, and follow up with any of our combat sequences.

Or suppose your opponent grips your collar, bends you backward and sweeps your leg from behind, as some Judo exponents do. Take this attack as a backward fall, which is represented in our basic sequences as “Felling Tree with Roots”. So respond with “Double Butterflies Flying Together”.

A simpler counter is to step over his reverse sweeping leg and counter with “Naughty Monkey Kicks at Tree” as in the Distilled Eight Combat Sequences from “Single Tiger Emerges from Cave”, or counter with “Swaying Lotus Leaves” as in the Distilled Eight Combat Sequences from “Yellow Bee Sucks Pollens”.

Question 3

During the Special Course, Sifu advised me to practice taking the initiative, even as a responder.


“Taking the initiative” is very important in kungfu as well as in daily life. Suppose there is some faults in your work place. You do not remain passive and allow the faults to continue but take the initiative to rectify them.

Suppose someone is accusing you unfairly. You do not merely answer his accusations but take the initiative to turn the table around.

Let us take an hypothetical example.

Accuser: You stole my idea.

You: No, I didn't.

Accuser: Yes, you did. I thought of the idea first. Then you stole it and presented it as your own.

You: Actually I thought of this idea long ago. It is also different from your idea.

Accuser: They are the same. You copied my idea.

The above is an example where the accuser takes the initiative.

Accuser: You stole my idea.

You: Do you have any proof? (Before the accuser can say something, you continue.)

You: Don't just open you mouth to say non-sense. You can be sued for slandering. Do you know what the penalty for slandering is?

(Before he can answer.) You: Do you know when was the first time I formulated my idea?

(Before he can open his mouth). You: You don't know. Yet, you accuse me of stealing your idea.

Here you take the initiative. You will notice that in sparring we do the same.

Shaolin Kung Fu against Boxing

During the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course of October 2006, Andy Brough of Shaolin Wahnam England worked out some effective techniques and tactics against a Boxer. The picture above shows Andy using these techniques and tactics against a Boxer posed by Lee Hwan King of Shaolin Wahnam Malaysia.

Question 4

Does this mean that I do not follow my responder's sequence to completion when practicing variations, but always cut off the attacker's sequence and start with my own? Or should I practice letting the attacker's sequence run its course?


Yes, in real fighting you cut off the opponent's attack as soon as possible and press in with your attack. Of course you must ensure that you are safe while attacking. This is the crucial meaning of “taking the initiative”. It means that you, and not your opponent, decide how the combat is going to unfold.

At higher levels, you may allow your opponent to continue to attack. Then when he least expects it, you counter-attack and finish him off with a coup-de-grace. This is also taking the initiative, but at a tactical or a strategic level, not just at a technical level. You have planned beforehand how the combat is going to run. You have laid out your tactic or strategy for your opponent to fall into.

In our training, depending on our developmental stages and purposes, sometimes we let the initiator's sequence runs its full course, sometimes we stop it half way, and sometimes we cut it right at the beginning.

Question 5

How should I practice for random attacks as a defender? Would it be the same way as I practice for variations or surprised counters as an initiator?


You question suggests that you use the water-buffalo approach here. A scenario is as follows.

You stay at a poise pattern and await your sparring partner to attack you randomly. He may bounce in to give you a punch, and then bounce back. Or he may rush in to execute a chain of punches. Or he may raise his hand as a feint move, then execute a kick. You obverse his moves carefully and figure out how best to respond to each random attack.

The smart approach we use in Shaolin Wahnam is different. We do not train to counter a random punch, or a chain of punches, or a surprised kick. We do not train just to meet countless individual attacks. We train to fight effectively as scholar-warriors. The most basic of this training is through the Sixteen Combat Sequences in Shaolin Kungfu, or the Twelve Combat Sequences in Wahnam Taijiquan.

This training provides us the basic philosophy and methodology to meet any attacks, random or planned, isolated or continuous. How successfully we shall do this depends much on how well we practice what has been taught. You would probably have known that techniques form only a small part of our basic training. Other aspects include internal force, presence of mind, tactics and strategies.

There are many ways culled from the basic training to handle an opponent who attacks randomly. You can take the initiative. Before he attacks you, you move in with a combat sequence you have practiced well. It is very likely that he will be quite helpless when you apply sequence attack on him. You can understand why this is so from the webpage here. Although by “random” you probably mean “not pre-arranged”, most people today fight randomly in the sense that they do not employ sophisticated kungfu forms.

You may allow him to attack first. His attack may come in isolation, i.e. one pattern at a time, or in continuation, i.e. many patterns in a continuous flow. Whatsoever, you should take the initiative. You may cut him short in his first move, irrespective of whether his attack is in isolation or continuation. Or you may allow him a few attacks, or allow him to complete his intended attacks, before finishing him.

Let us return to the scenario above for some examples. Your sparring partner (or a real opponent) bounces in with a punch, and then bounces back. You do not know his moves beforehand — and you don't need to. But as his punch arrives, irrespective of whether it is real or feint, you respond with “Single Tiger” and are about to follow with “Black Tiger” when you find that he bounces back. You follow his retreat movement by moving your right back leg forward to a right Bow-Arrow Stance and continue with your punch, but with the pattern “Fierce Tiger Speeds through Valley” instead of the original “Black Tiger Steals Heart”. Instantaneously you continue with Sequence 5, or you may execute a left thrust kick and continue with Sequence 10.

Suppose he does not bounce back. After throwing you his first punch, he continues with a second punch and then more punches with the same hand or with the other hand. You continue with the same initiative as above but with some additions or modifications. After your first “Single Tiger” you use your same hand or the other hand to brush away or intercept his second punch, and immediately “tame” or cover his both hands, thus preventing him from further attack. Then you execute your “Black Tiger”, “Fierce Tiger” or “White Horse Presents Hoof”, and continue with Sequence 5 or 10 as before. You will be able to do all these spontaneously and correctly if you have been properly trained in the sixteen combat sequences.

Suppose he does not throw a punch, but gives a kick or attempts to fell you instead. You just respond accordingly and spontaneously. You respond with “Lohan Strikes Drum”, “Butterfly Palms” or whatever patterns are appropriate for the occasions without thinking. Then you continue your initiative using Sequences 5 or 10.

Question 6

In our Shaolinquan practice, we are trained to “lift” high attacks, “lean” on middle attacks, “sweep” low attacks and “intercept” side attacks. However, in addition to “leaning”, there are other ways to respond to a middle attack, such as lifting (as in “Immortal Waves Sleeves”), or brush away (as in “Punch Below Sleeves”), break (“Play the Pipa”) which I also practice as part of my Wahnam Taijiquan Combat Sequences.

Also, the other day when training with my sparring partner, I reacted without thinking to a high attack with “Black Tiger Breaks Flank” even though the normal reaction should have been “Golden Dragon” or “Immortal Waves Sleeves” which I train far more often.

My question is whether we would be so accustomed to training certain ways to respond that if we wish to “switch” in real combat or sparring (eg, from a Single Tiger “lean” to a different type of counter), there may be a slight hesitation.

I was trying to devise new combat sequences from my specialized set when this occurred to me. My own feeling is that there would be no hesitation but as I have never been in a real fight using kungfu techniques, I wish to seek your advice, Sifu.


Your questions are academic and suggest a water-buffalo approach. But happily your result shows that you have been training smartly, and your own experience has answered your academic questions.

Once you can successful “lean” on an opponent's middle-level attack, you can use other techniques like “lift”, “ward off”, “brush away” and “break” as you have stated. You also found from direct experience that there was no hesitation when you used another technique other than the one you earlier trained in.

As an analogy, once you know how to type a particular letter, you can not only type other letters but also stories, reports, articles, poems and any documents, and your efficiency in typing these other documents improves as time goes by even though you might not have typed them in your initial training. It is also the same in law practice. The real cases you handle everyday are different from those you practiced with in your university. But you are more efficient now than in your university days.

It is a blessing that you have not used kungfu in a real fight. But if it occurred, I am sure you would be very surprised how effective you were.

Question 7

I am devising a combat sequence training programme for my training partner and I. Can I trouble Sifu to review it if the progression is suitable? We have been practising Pre-choice up to 1-8 for a year now. I base this programme from my intensive and special courses but I am not sure if I remembered all the steps accurately, so I am also referring to Sifu's website.

Stage 1. Self-choice for Seq 1-8.

Stage 2. Self-choice plus Continuation for 1-8.

Stage 3. Self-choice 9-12 plus Continuation 1-8.

Stage 4. Self-choice plus Continuation for 1-12.

Stage 5. Self-choice 13-16 plus Continuation 1-12.

Stage 6. Self-choice plus Continuation for 1-16.

At each stage, there will be surprised counters and subtraction of patterns in the continuation sequences. And as I recall from my courses, and from the website descriptions, the second sequence in the Continuation can be continued by the responder. I am quite sure I have missed some details out, so could Sifu kindly correct me?


Your combat training programme is good though there is room for improvement.

But before I talk about the improvement, I would like to mention the following important points.

Now we refer back to the training programme that you have devised. It may be a matter of semantics, but you mention only three levels — Pre-Choice, Self Choice and Continuation. You have missed out the later three levels, namely External Change, Internal Change and Free Sparring.

External Change is where you or your sparring partner change (not just continue) to another sequence towards the end of the first sequence. Suppose you initiate Sequence 5 and plan to continue to Sequence 6. But when you execute a “Precious Duck”, instead of responding with “Hand Sweep”, he side-steps and counters with a side kick. You would then change to Sequence 9 instead of continuing with Sequence 6 as planned. (You may use a right “Lohan Strike Drum” instead of a left.) We arbitrarily call this change “external” because it comes after many patterns of the first sequence, i.e. Sequence 5, have been performed.

If the change comes after only one or two patterns, we call it “Internal Change”. Suppose after the first or the second “Fierce Tiger”, your partner executes a side kick instead of following the prescribed Sequence 5. Thus you change to Sequence 9. You respond with a right “Lohan Strike Drum”, and follow with a right “Dark Dragon Enters a Well”. After threading your “Dark Dragon” with a “Golden Dragon”, your partner responds with a “Yellow Oriole Plays with Water”. You would then respond with “Sharp Knife Trims Bamboo”. This is another “internal change”.

You will notice that “Internal Change” inevitably and naturally leads to “Free Sparring”. In the above example, as your partner executes a side kick, you respond with “Lohan Strikes Drum”. Instead of following with “Dark Dragon”, you may side step and execute a side kick too. Your partner then responds with “Lohan Strikes Drum”, thus starting another “internal change”.

Now, look at the above example again. When your partner executes a side kick, you may decide to skip “Lohan Strikes Drum”, and straight-away side-step to execute a side kick. Your sparring partner may respond with “Lohan Strikes Drum”, followed by “Dark Dragon” or a similar pattern like “Black Tiger” or “Poisonous Snake”, in which case it is an “internal change”. But he may, like you, do away with “Lohan Strike Drum”, and, after side-stepping to avoid your kick, move in with “Black Tiger”, “Poisonous Snake” or a different pattern like “Felling Tree with Roots”, in which case it has turned to free sparring.

To prevent rushing too fast into free sparring and losing kungfu forms, you should forget about the term “Free Sparring” and focus first on “External Change”, and gradually on “Internal Change”. Let the stage of “Free Sparring” evolves naturally. In this way you will be free sparring spontaneously using the most appropriate kungfu forms.

Wahnam Taijiquan/Tai Chi Chuan

Some people have the mis-conception that Taijiquan is only soft. Taijiquan can also be very hard. Its “hardness” is due not to muscular strength but to internal force. Here, Sifu Wong uses a relatively hard technique in this pattern called “Green Dragon Shoots Pearl” against Sifu Luis of Portugal. Notice that it is similar to the Shaolin pattern “Hungry Tiger Snatches Goat” shown above. In other situations, however, the same pattern “Green Dragon Shoots Pearl” can be “soft”.

Question 8

When I was 24 years old, I acquired schizophrenia. I was in hospital for 10 months. I took neuroleptic. When I did not take neuroleptic for three months, I felt myself very good, but then my problem became aggravated. When I take neuroleptic I often feel anxious and have fearful emotions. I have constant tremors of my hands and feet. I would appreciate your advice.

— Denis, Russia


I am sorry about your schizophrenia problem, but the good news is that it can be overcome if you practice high level chi kung. We have quite a lot of students who overcame schizophrenia. They no longer take medical drugs and are now physically and emotionally healthy.

Chi kung looks at schizophrenia from a different perspective. In the chi kung paradigm, schirophrenia and all other psychiatric problems are not disorders of the body but of the mind (or spirit).

These mental disorders do have physical symptoms, but the physical symptoms, like the excess or the lack of certain chemicals in the body, are the result not the cause of the disorder. Hence, from the chi kung perspective, taking medication that corrects chemical imbalances in the body, including the brain, only alleviates the symptoms of the mental disorder; it does not overcome the disorder itself.

To overcome the disorder, we have to approach the root cause. The mind (or spirit) of the patient has been “shattered”, resulting in him viewing events and objects differently from what a healthy mind would view.

There may be different intermediate causes for the shattering of the mind, but in chi kung we need not worry about these intermediate factors. Once we can overcome the root cause, in this case nurture the mind back to normalcy, the patient will recover — irrespective of what intermediate factors cause the mind shattering in the first place.

Practicing chi kung is an excellent way to nurture the mind. I would emphasize that you should practice not just any chi kung from any instructor, but high level chi kung from a master or at least a competent instructor.

Question 9

I was wondering if it is against any Taiji principles if we were training hard jin. If I am in the Horse-Riding Stance and punching with dumb-bells, would that be alright in Taijiquan training to develop internal force?


No, it is not against Taijiquan principles to train hard “jin” or internal force. In fact, it complements the yin-yang harmony of Taijiquan.

It is a mis-conception among many people to think that Taijiquan is only soft, and Shaolin Kungfu only hard. Any great kungfu, like Taijiquan and Shaolin, are both hard and soft. I know some Taijiquan masters systemativally strike themselves with iron bars to develop Iron Shirt.

Yes, you can punch with dumb-bells in your Horse-Riding Stance if you are ready for this kind of force training. Firstly, you must be able to sit on your Horse-Riding Stance comfortably for a reasonable period of time. Secondly, you must have sufficient force in your arms that holding the dumb-bells is not demanding.

Make sure you have your mouth open as you punch. You may explode force with a “herit” sound coming from your dan tian. You should not tense your muscles when punching; you should be totally relaxed.

Your Taijiquan will improve tremendously if you are successful in this force-training exercise.



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