health and happiness

Sean, Grandmaster Wong and Sifu Michael. Practicing chi kung and kungfu should make you healthy and happy. If you are unhealthy and stressful, something is wrong.

Question 1

You have said many times that we cannot learn kungfu and chi kung from books or videos, but you have asked your students to learn kungfu from videos. Isn't this a contradiction of what you have said?

— Joseph, Singapore


Yours are very interesting questions which reveal many aspects of kungfu training and achievement.

My advice to the public and what I tell my students are not a contradiction, though it may appear to be at surface level. When we go deeper, we can see that different factors are involved.

Those who asked my advice had no kungfu or chi kung experience. Some of them even wanted to be teachers by first learning from books or videos. They had no idea of the depth of kungfu and chi kung. They thought that kungfu and chi kung were like physical exercises they learned in elementary and high school in their physical education classes.

At the best, they would learn the external forms of kungfu and chi kung, and they may even perform the forms beautifully. But they will miss the essence, they will miss the benefits for which these exercises are practiced.

What is the essence, and what are the benefits? For kungfu the essence is combat skills, and for chi kung it is energy flow. The benefits are the ability to defend themselves in kungfu, and good health in chi kung.

The irony is that even students learning from live teachers do not attain the essence nor obtain the benefits. Many people who practice kungfu and chi kung today, including those who have practiced for many years, cannot defend themselves and are still sick and weak. It is certainly worse for those who learn from books or videos.

Not many people understand what we say though they may understand the dictionary meaning of all the words in our explanation. They don't understand essence and benefits, though real life examples are actually plentiful. Some may choose not to believe what we say. That is their right. On our part we give them the advice we honest think is most beneficial to them.

Worst, they may teach these outward forms to others, honestly believing that they are helping to promote the arts. But they are debasing kungfu and chi kung. In fact, unsuspecting teachers, despite their good intentions, teaching merely external forms and missing the essence and benefits, is a main reason why kungfu and chi kung have been debased to such a ridiculous level today.

But the situations with my students whom I ask to learn from my videos are different. Not only my students know philosophically what essence and benefits mean, but also are able to experience the practical results of essence and benefits. In other words, not only my students know that in chi kung they have to generate energy flow, and in kungfu they need combat skills, but also they experience good health and combat efficiency. Learning the outward forms from videos before they attend my courses is to save time so that during the courses we can focus on things not normally taught elsewhere, and which need personal attention.

This is one of the reasons why we can achieve very good results from a course lasting only a few days. Most other students learn only external forms and they continue practicing these external forms for years. They normally learn nothing else. They may sometimes be engaged in free sparring using kick-boxing, which is usually a haphazard exchange of blows. Our students already know the forms before they attend my course. At the course they learn the finer point of the forms, how to develop internal force, how to apply the forms for combat, how to use tactics and strategies, and how to apply their kungfu and chi kung to enrich their daily life.

Question 2

I also read that in the past kungfu experts discovered some secrets hidden in caves. They practiced the secrets and became very powerful. Was this true, and if this was true it showed that people can learn from books, isn't it?


It was true that in the past masters discovered hidden secrets and benefitted much by following the secrets. Some of these masters attained very high skills in their art.

But they were already masters before they found the secrets. They already had basic skills required for following the instructions in the hidden secrets. It was similar to our students who already have the basic skills and therefore can learn from videos or books.

But this is different from those who don't have the basic skills, like those whom I advised not to learn from books or videos.

In fact many of these secrets are now available today. We are really living in an information age. It is incredible but true that what past masters would pay a fortune or risk their lives to attain, is now available in kungfu classics costing less than a hundred dollars each! Indeed, we in Shaolin Wahnam have benefited very much from such sources.

Nevertheless, most people, including kungfu practitioners, will be unable to follow the instructions of these classics. If they attempt to, they may harm themselves.

Why? There are a few reasons.

  1. The classics are very concise. They are not teaching manuals, but written as records for posterity or for the masters' students who already had practiced the arts described. Hence, basic information was usually not described. But if one misses this basic information, not only he will not derive benefit from the practice but may derive harmful side-effects.

  2. The classics are often written in jargons which many people may not understand.

  3. Even when one understands what was written, he lacks the skills to carry out the instructions.

I am very lucky to have procession of the Classics of Shaolin Kungfu written about a thousand years ago. The following is a description of how the Flower Set was performed by the Shaolin master, the Venerable Fu Ji, who compiled the classic. Only the first few patterns are described below. The description follows the Chinese words literally.

Flower Set starts with closing gate
Shoot punch thrust at heart
Xiang Zi carries basket raises surrounded elbow
Seek yin-organ explode leg start hard force
Black Tiger jumps stream fast like lightning
Floor-work scissor-legs marvellous response
Two rise pluck leg fierce like cannon
Drake flies aslant hawk turns body

Because of my understanding of pattern names, I can reconstruct this set form the classic, but most people would not know what the description is about.

Flower Set

A pattern from Flower Set -- Shoot punch thrust at heart

Question 3

I also read that masters used to keep some secrets for themselves. Otherwise their students could be better than them. Was this true?


This was true for some masters. But generally masters were keen to teach their best to their students after having tested the students and observed their character.

Sometimes students thought their masters held back some secrets. Often the real situation was the students were not ready for the next progression in their training. In some advanced arts, teaching students before they were ready would spoil their chance of ever attaining the desired result. Sometimes it might be harmful.

There is a kungfu saying as follows. "Searching for a good teacher is difficult. Searching for a good student is more difficult."

In this respect I am lucky. I have many good students. My hope is that they will learn fast, without sacrificing standard, so that I can retire early.

Question 4

How do we know that what we practice is genuine?

— Hussain, Oman


An excellent, fool-proved way is to find out whether the results you get are the results practicing the art or exercise is meant to give.

For example, if the results of practicing a certain art or exercise is A, B, C, and you get A, B, C after practicing the art or exercise for a required period of time, what you practice is genuine. It also shows the teacher is competent and you are good students.

However, if your result is X, Y, Z when your art or exercise is supposed to give A, B, C, what you practice is not genuine.

For example, practicing chi kung is meant to overcome illness and give good health, and practicing kungfu is meant to give combat efficiency. If after practicing for many years, practitioners are still sick and weak, or cannot use their art to defend themselves, it is obvious that the arts they practice are not genuine. This is so logical and obvious, but many practitioners seem not to realize it.


Cannon Punch of Xingyiquan

Question 5

What kind of benefits does a practitioner of Hsing Yi derive on a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level and how would these manifest in everyday life? Would these differ from the benefits one gets from practicing Tai Chi Chuan? For example, it seems that Hsing Yi uses the principle of not moving back in combat whilst in Tai Chi Chuan this might not be the case. How would this transfer to everyday life?

— Sifu Claude, Malta


Xingyiquan, or Hsing Yi Kungfu, is hard and forceful. Physically it will make a practitioner strong, emotionally firm, mentally determined, and spiritually steadfast. These are admirable qualities in any person. A person who lacks resolve, who gives up easily in everyday life, will benefit much by practicing Xingyiquan.

On the other hand, Tai Chi Chuan is soft and flowing. Physically it will make a practitioner gentle, emotionally kind, mentally flexible, and spiritually agile. These are admirable qualities too. A person who is harsh and rough will benefit much be practicing Taijiquan.

A special feature of Xingyiquan is to move forward in attack. There is little or no retreat. There are also no obvious defence patterns! And the patterns are simple-looking. Does this mean that there is only attack and no defence in Xingyiquan? No, the defence is incorporated in the attack. Herein lies its profundity in simplicity.

This philosophy and practice is very useful when you are a leader in your business or profession if transferred successfully into everyday life. You lead your company or team to victory, while at the same time taking care of your own security. But it demands great skills to do this well, otherwise it can easily back-fire.

But in situations where you have to negotiate with equals or superiors, this Xingyiquan approach would not be suitable. It would be too bossy. The Taijiquan approach will be suitable.

The philosophy and practice of Taijiquan is just the reverse. First you yield to an opponent's attack, then you use his momentum to turn him round and defeat him. Your opponent may be stronger, but you can still defeat him.

In today's world the Taijiquan approach is often more effective. It is the diplomatic approach, in contrast to the military approach of Xinyiquan. But in situations where people are indecisive the bulldozing approach of Xingyiquan may work better.

Question 6

Would you please give me some insight on the structure and essence of Hsing Yi? Is there one main set for Hsing Yi practice? Is this the "Five Elemental Fists"? Are there also individual sets for the different 12 animals? Would a serious Hsing Yi practitioner have to choose in which animals to specialize?


Xingyiquan is simple and linear, in contrast with the elaborate patterns of Baguazhang and the circular movement of Taijiquan. Belies its simplicity is its profundity, Xingyiquan is known for its explosive force.

Xingyiquan was invented by the famous Song marshal, Yue Fei, sometimes regarded as the God of Martial Art. Yu Fei taught Xingyiquan to his generals, and Eagle Claw Kungfu, which he also invented, to his soldiers.

The fundamental set of Xingyiquan is the Five Elemental Process Set (commonly known as Five-Element Fist), which consists of five elemental strikes namely palm thrust, spiral fist, explosive fist, cannon fist and diagonal fist, which are designated by the five elemental processes of metal, water, wood, fire and earth.

To supplement these five fundamental strikes, there are technique inspired by twelve animals, namely dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, alligator, cockerel, hawk, swallow, snake, ostrich, eagle and bear. There is a set called Xingyi Twelve-Animal Set.

There are no individual sets for the twelve animals. Xingyiquan practitioners need not specialize in any of the animals.

There are also two sparring sets, called Five-Flower Cannon, which is based on the Five Elemental Prosess Set, and the Peace-Body Cannon, based on the Twelve-Animal Set. Because of their long history, there are different versions of these sparring sets.

In the Xingyiquan Course at UK Summer Camp 2013, we shall learn all this material and more. We shall also learn how to develop internal force using the Santi Stance, or three-Body Stance using the correspondence approach and the expansive approach. We shall also use Xingyiquan to spar with opponents of other martial art. Like Wuzuquan, Xingyiquan is excellent for acquiring the element of threat and for winning free sparring competitions.

Tiger form in Xingyiquan

Tiger form in Xingyiquan

Question 7

It seems that many people refer to Hsing Yi as a martial art of mind and energy where intent controls the internal force to defeat opponent. I am aware that in Shaolin Wahnam this is how we practice all the arts including Shaolin Kung Fu, Chi Kung and Tai Chi Chuan.

Would learning Hsing Yi take this skill to a new more profound level since it seems that this is the essence with which this art has been developed? I would also call Shaolin Kung Fu a martial art of mind and energy. Why is it rarely addressed in this way whilst Hsing Yi is more openly addressed in this way?


You are right that while mind and energy are also found in other great arts, it is in Xingyiquan that they are much emphasized. Without mind and energy, Xingyiquan would not be very effective for combat. But Xingyiquan is a very effective martial art, and it is precisely because of mind and energy.

Indeed, this may be a reason why Xingyiquan forms are simple. The forms are purposely reduced to their simplest so that practitioners can better focus on mind and energy. Hence, Xingyiquan is effective for those who have reached a high level, but is not effective for novices. It is kungfu for generals. Ordinary soldiers need to train kungfu with elaborate techniques.

You are also right that our Shaolin Kungfu, chi kung and Taijiquan are a training of mind and energy. Shaolin practitioners usually practice Shaolin Kungfu as an external art, now as well as in the past. We are a rare exception.

Taijiquan and chi kung are arts of energy and mind, and practitioners in the past practiced them as such. But today most practitioners only practice their external forms.

The reason, I believe, why mind and energy are well addressed in Xingyiquan, but not in Taijiquan and chi kung where mind and energy are also essential, and also not in Shaolin Kungfu although mind and energy are also present in its training, is because of the simplicity of Xingyiquan forms.

Taijiquan, chi kung and Shaolin forms are relatively more elaborated. Hence, even when mind and energy are absent, students can still use the elaborated Taijiquan and Shaolin forms for combat, or for demonstration, and use chi kung forms for loosening their muscles and joints.

But without mind and energy, the simple Xingyiquan forms are inadequate for combat. They are also not very beautiful to watch in demonstration. So in Xingyiquan, practitioners either have mind and energy in their training and it becomes useful, or without mind and energy and it becomes useless. But without mind and energy, Taijiquan and Shaolin Kungfu, can become flowery fists and embroidery kicks, and chi kung can become gentle physical exercise., which is actually the case today.

For us, practicing Xingyiquan may not take the skills of mind and energy to a more profound level because we already practice our arts -- Shaolin Kungfu, chi kung, Taijiquan and other kungfu stlyes in our school -- in this way. On the other hand, because we already have high-level skills of mind and energy, we can excel in Xingyiquan more easily.

Learning Xingyiquan will give us other benefits. It gives us a new perspective of kungfu -- a perspective Shaolin and Taijiquan practitioners may not normally see or experience. It teaches us how to use explosive force rewardingly. It shows us how to attack in a pressing manner, yet be safe and with defence incorporated in the attack. For many of our students, it is an effective vehicle to acquire an element of threat, which is essential in combat and which many of our students lack.

Question 8

Would attending the Tai Chi Chuan Intensive course or Hsing Yi course detract my focus of going deeper in Shaolin Kung Fu in any way?


For other people, yes; for us, no.

In other words, for other people, if they also practice Taijiquan or Xingyiquan besides Shaolin Kungfu, their result will be less than if they only practice Shaolin Kungfu. For us if we also practice Taijiquan or Xingyiquan besides practicing Shaolin Kungfu, our result will be more than if we only practice Shaolin Kungfu. The increase in benefit is not slight, it can be a lot.

Why is it that for other people, practicing another art will detract from their main art, whereas for us it will enhance?

It is because we can benefit from breath and depth, whereas for other people the different arts cancel each other's benefits.

Why is this so? The main reason is chi flow. There are other reasons like we understand the underlying philosophy, have basic skills, are flexible and have positive transfer, whereas other people don't have these advantages.

Let us take a very simple example. In Xingyiquan the Santi or Three-Body Stance is frequently used. It is somewhere between the Bow-Arrow Stance and the False-Leg Stance.

In our case, this extra stance is an advantage. When the situation warrants it, we may use a Santi Stance in a Shaolin pattern instead of its normal Bow-Arrow Stance. For other people, this stance becomes a distraction. It may affect their Bow-Arrow Stance that its form may not be perfect resulting in setbacks.

Let us take another example. In executing a right Black Tiger Steals Heart in a left Bow-Arrow Stance, our spiral force shoots out from our dan tian in an anticlockwise direction. In Xingyiquan when executing a right spiral punch in a right Santi Stance, the spiral force shoots out from the dan tian in a clockwise direction.

For us, because we understanding the underlying principle and are skilled in mind and energy, this new experience adds to our ability in exploding spiral force. It makes our spiral force alive. For other people who do not understand the underlying principle and who attained spiral force by sheer practice of techniques over a long time, this reverse flow of energy and movement would confuse them, making them less able to explode spiral force.



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