Elegance of movement

Cultivation of jing in internal harmonies means elegance of movement

Question 1

Sifu, when did you first know about "jing", "qi" and "shen"?

— Sifu Mark Appleford, Chief Instructor, UK


I first knew about "jing", "qi", "shen" in my teens when I read kungfu classics during the time I was learning Shaolin Kungfu from Uncle Righteousness. But at that time I did not fully understand the meaning of "jing", "qi" and "shen". I only knew that good kungfu was not just about fighting. It was triple cultivation of "jing", "qi" and "shen", or the physical body, energy and spirit. But I did not understand how to cultivate "jing", "qi" and "shen".

Like most people, including most Chinese, the term "jing" was most problematic. I knew "jing" referred to the physical body, and that in good kungfu it was not just practicing physical kungfu forms but also train energy and spirit.

I heard of the expression, "internally train jing, shen, qi; externally train ken, gu, bi", which means "internally train physical body, energy and spirit; externally train tendons, bones and skin". But I did not understand how by training the physical body one can train internally. I thought training the physical body was external training.

It was much later, after I had established Shaolin Wahnam Association, the forerunner of our school, Shaolin Wahnam Institute, that I had a better understanding of "jing" as the finest physical substance, so fine that we could not see with our naked eyes, which I translated into English as sub-atomic particulars. I also understood that a macro collection of "jing", or sub-atomic particles, resulted the physical body. I believe I was the first person to describe "jing" in this way, to translate it as sub-atomic particles.

With this understanding of "jing" as the finest physical substance, or sub-atomic particles, I realised that when we trained Horse-riding Stance or Golden Bridge, we strengthened "jing", thus developing internal force. This gave me a clear idea why cultivating "jing" was internal training, as opposed to stretching muscles like in leg stretching exercise, hitting one's arms against a wooden dummy, or hitting sand-bags, which were cultivating "ken", "gu" and "be", or tendons, bones and skin.

Like many people, including many Chinese, I first thought of qi as air. I thought, wrongly, that chi kung was a form of breathing exercise to regulate breathing of air. It is interesting that now even students in our school know that one can practice high-level chi kung without regulating his breathing. I asked my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, whether air flowed into our abdomen in Abdominal Breathing as I clearly felt "qi" flowing into my "dan tian". My sifu answered that it was not air, and that "qi" was some form of electricity. People in the past, he explained, did not know of electricity, so they called it "qi".

But I had no difficulty understanding why cultivating "qi" was internal training. My early chi kung training, however, was associated with breathing, though I knew that "qi" was not just air. When I trained Lifting the Sky and One-Finger Shooting Zen, for example, I had to regulate my breaths. It was much later, when I had started teaching chi kung in public and when I had understood the importance of entering into a chi kung state of mind, that I realised one could perform high-level chi kung without having to regulate the breath.

One of my earliest understanding of "qi" was through reading books on Chinese medicine written in Chinese. Stomach diseases were described as "wai hei pat chok" in Cantonese, or "wei qi bu zhu" in Mandarin, which word-for-word means "stomach functions not enough". I knew that here "qi" did not mean air, but functions. It was not that a person's stomach lacked air that made him sick, but that his stomach was not functioning properly.

In the first book I wrote (but the second to be published), Introduction to Shaolin Kungfu, I translated "qi" as intrinsic energy. I believe I was also the first person to use the term "intrinsic energy" to mean "qi". I was quite happy that this term caught on, and a few people used intrinsic energy to describe "qi". Later, like in The Art of Chi Kung and The Complete Book of Chinese Medicine, I translated "qi" as vital energy when found in persons, and as cosmic energy when found outside persons. Now I just use energy to mean "qi".

Although of the three terms -- "jing", "qi", "shem" -- "shen" was the most abstract, it did not present any problems. All the while I have understood and translated "shen" as spirit, soul, mind or consciousness, depending on the culture of the people using the terms. All these translations refer to the same concept -- the non-physical, real being -- though the connotations for some people may be different. A religious person referring to "shen" as soul will have quite different connotations to a scientist referring to "shen" as consciousness.

I was also aware that many spiritualists of the Indian tradition differentiated between mind and soul, and that Buddhists of the Theravada tradition did not believe in the soul. Many Westerners also shared the concepts of these two traditions. But in the Shaolin tradition, which follows the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the soul and the mind are the same, and are referred to in classical Chinese as "xin", which is translated as "heart".

In my writing on Buddhist philosophy, I have suggested that Buddhists believe in the soul, though some Buddhists, like Theravadins, call it the mind. The Buddha, for example, clearly stated that since the time he vowed to save the world when he and his mother were drown, had gone through 500 reincarnations to be finally reborn as Siddhatha Guatama and attained Enlightenment, and it was his same soul that had been reincarnated in different bodies.

I was also aware that cultivating "shen" was non-religious, and all religions dealt with "shen", or spirit. "Shen" was also very important to people who did not believe in religion. Cultivating "shen", which constituted internal training, would make those who were timid to be confident, afraid to be calm, agitated to be peaceful, and depressed to be contented.

It is also because of our success in the cultivation of "shen" that we have become very cost-effective.

Our understanding of "jing", "qi" and "shen" has brought our training to an unprecedented high level. First integrated by the great Zhang San Feng many centuries ago but still not understood by many people, our training is not triple-cultivation separately but all at the same time. In other words, we do not merely cultivate "jing", "qi" and "shen" at different times in our training, which by itself is great, but we cultivate "jing", "qi" and "shen" simultaneously, which is even greater.

While most others abuse their body when they practice kungfu, have no experience of energy when they practice chi kung, do not train their spirit when they practice meditation, whenever we practice any kungfu, chi kung or meditation exercise, we cultivate our body, energy and spirit simultaneously.

Question 2

Can we transmit chi to people and objects? Can we transmit chi to sick people to help them recover?

— Dimitri, Austria


Yes, a master can transmit chi to people and objects. In my early years of healing, I often transmitted chi to patients to help them recover. Now I find it better to let them generate their own chi flow. It is better to teach a person how to fish than to give him a fish.

Their chi flow will not only clear the blockage which my transmitted chi would clear, it will also clear other blockage which I and he himself may not know.

In my earlier years, when a patient is too young, like a baby or a small child, to practice chi kung himself, I transmitted chi to objects, like water or a pendant which he wears, so that the chi can help him clear his blockage. I had to renew the transmission of chi into objects once a while, like a week or a few days. This method was effective as these young patients were later cured of their illness or problems.

But unless you are trained, it is not advisable for you to do so even when your intention is noble. You are likely to cause more harm than good.

For example, you may not know how to open points before transmitting chi. Preuming that you could transmit chi, which actually needs special skills, the additional chi being blocked from flowing may cause him harm rather than benefit.

You may also pick up bad chi from the patient when you transmit you chi to him. Not only you cannot help him to recover, you yourself may be sick.

Grasping Sparrow's Tail

Grasping Sparrow's Tail

Question 3

What would you consider to be the making of a master?

— Andrea, Austria


It may be a surprise to many people to say that I consider gratitude to be the making of a master. Of course, other factors like perseverance and determination are also important

Gratitude is important at all the stages of successful training -- from a beginner to an intermediate student, to an advanced practitioner to eventually becoming a master. If a student is not grateful for the training he receives, he may drop out on the way, or discontinue his training thinking mistakenly that he has reached a master's level.

When a practitioner has eventually become a master, he must be grateful to his teachers who have led him to the master's level, even when, in some situations, he may have surpassed his teachers.

It is pertinent to mention that today real masters of chi kung and kungfu are very rare. Many chi kung "masters" are sick and weak on a routine basis, and many kungfu "masters" cannot apply their kungfu for combat. Obviously, these "masters", even when they are well known worldwide and mistakenly acknowledged as authority by the innocent public, have not mastered their arts, as chi kung is the art of attaining good health, vitality and longevity, and kungfu is the art of combat.

It is also pertinent to know that there are different levels of being a master, as there are different levels of the art. If someone has practiced some low-level chi kung for many years, has mastered its skills and techniques, and exhibits its result like being healthy, he is a master of low-level chi kung, compared to another master of high-level chi kung who not only is healthy but can also expand into the Cosmos.

Similarly, if someone has practiced chi kung or kungfu for many years and has mastered its forms, but without obtaining the benefits of chi kung like good health, vitality and longevity, or of kungfu like combat efficiency, he may be called a master of chi kung forms or kungfu forms, but not a master of chi kung or kungfu. Unfortunately, many people due to their lack of understanding what genuine chi kung or kungfu is, frequently refer to such masters of forms as masters of chi kung or of kungfu.

Question 4

I am preparing myself for teaching Tai Chi Chuan Level 5 and had a closer look at the syllabus, set and combat sequences.

The syllabus mentions "Breath co-ordination".

I thought we would not co-ordinate the breathing in Tai Chi Chuan, but let the breathing be spontaneous. Shall I employ the breathing methods of Shaolin Kung Fu, or shall I leave it spontaneous?

— Sifu Leonard Lackinger, Austria


A good approach in teaching breath co-ordination in Taijiquan is to use Grasping Sparrow's Tail.

Breathe out as you perform "Immortal Waves Sleeves". Breathe in at "Double Dragon Plays with Pearl". Breathe out in "Pushing Boat According to Current of Flow". Breathe in at "Black Beak Sinks Hips". Breathe out at "Open Window to Look at Moon".

As a general rule, when you extend, like "Immortal Waves Sleeves", you breathe out. If you strike, you explode force. When you "retreat", like "Double Dragon Plays with Pearl", you breathe in.

The breathing methods in Shaolin Kungfu will serve as good guidelines. Breathing methodology in Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan is quite similar.

When students have a good control of breathing, you can return to spontaneous breathing.

It is a cycle. First, students do not worry about breathing as they perform the form. Then they regulate their breathing according to the form. Eventually they do not worry about the breathing when they perform the form. The first stage and the third stage are different though at both stages practitioners do not worry about their breathing.

These three modes of breathe control, from spontaneous to control to spontaneous again, correspond to the three levels of performance -- the levels of form, energy and mind.

At first practitioner just learn the form without worrying about breathing. Then they perform at the level of energy with breath control, which gives them more force. Eventually they progress to the mind level where their breathing is spontaneous, which gives them the most force.

A close secret is hidden in the open in this picture of Fierce Dragon Across Stream

Question 5

According to the revised edition of the pictures of our 12 Combat Sequences, Sequences 6, 7 and 8 all end with Fierce Dragon Across Stream by both partners. In most of the videos this ending with Fierce Dragon by each partner is only used in sequence 6. Also in the Black Bear Sinks Hips Set, Sequences 7 and 8 end with Immortal Waves Sleeves.

Which one is the established standard version I should teach my students (a) for the combat sequences and (b) for the Black Bear Set?


There is a close secret regarding whether we should use Immortal Waves Sleeves or Fierce Dragon Stream when responding to an opponent's strike. If you don't know the close secret, remind me when we next meet and I shall demonstrate it to you.

We teach the close secret only to selected disciples. So when you teach your class, use Immortal Waves Sleeves. If you teach the close secret, bring your selected students away to teach them secretly.

The pictures you mentioned are examples of hiding secrets in the open. Those who do not know the secret, may not know it even when they examine the pictures.

Question 6

Regarding Striking Hands, should I start teaching it with a prearranged sequence of the different techniques first or let it be in free flow (free selection) right at the start?


First teach the appropriate responses to attacks separately or freely. When students have conditioned themselves to particular responses, these responses form a sequence.

This was how sequences came about. First there were patterns, then the patterns formed a sequence. Various sequences were linked together to form a set.

It was not the other way round. It was not some smart Alex set out to compose a sequence or a set. Then he took the patterns from the sequence or the set and worked out their application.

When we know this historical background, we understand why it is foolish to say that kungfu cannot be used for combat. At first people fought randomly. Effective ways of fighting formulated into patterns. Successful fighters linked patterns into favorable sequences for combat. Masters linked the sequences to form sets. Hence, the patterns in any kungfu sets are the crystallization of actual fighting experiences. But due to their long history, the combat functions of some patterns may not be easily discernable.

Teaching students the way I have mentioned above is not just for histroical purposes. It gives insight to students why certain patterns are preferred, why the sequence worked out the way it did, and condition the students to respond correctly and spontaneously.

The reactive tactic of interception

Question 7

Can you please elaborate with short examples or techniques on passive and active advantages of Pushing Hands (level 4)?


Passive and active advantages are old terms. A few years ago, Piti suggested better terms, and called them reactive and proactive advantages. I have changed those terms in the respective webpage.

There are four tactics about Pushing Hands we learn at Level 4, namely Immediate Counter, Interception, Continuous Attack and Confusing Attack. The first two tactics are reactive, which means we wait for an opponent to make an attack and we respond to the attack using the two tactics, and the latter two are proactive, which means we use the latter two tactics to attack.

Your opponent gives you a frontal push. You neutralize his attack. After a few rounds of circulating hands, you attack him with a frontal push. If he has learnt the defence technique, he has no difficulty to defend against your attack.

Immediately after you have defended against his frontal push, beofre he has time to recover from his initial attack, you counter-attack him with a your frontal push. You will have a better chance of pushing him away even when he knows the defence technique. Here you defeat him not because he does not know the defence, but because you have successfully applied the reactive tactic of Immediate Counter.

Your chance of defeating him is even more if you use the reactive tactic of Interception, which of course demands more skills. Instead of countering him immediately after your defence against his initial attack, you counter him in the midst of your defence. You intercept his frontal push, not directly in a head-on manner but deflect his force away, and simultaneously push him away with your frontal push, while he stills has not completed his attacking motion.

Now you apply the proactive tsctics. You initiate an attack with a frontal push. After he has defended against you frontal push, you continue with circulating hands. Then you attempt a side push. He can also defend against your attack because he has learnt the appropriate defence techniques.

Your chance of defeating your opponent is higher even when he knows the defence techniques if you apply the proactive tactic of Continuous Attack. Instead of having the frontal attack and the side attack as two separate attacks separated by some circulating hands, you run the two attacks into one as if they were one continuous flow. As soon as he defend against your first frontal push, you attack him with a side push without any break in between.

Your chance of defeating him is even higher if you use the proactive tactic of Confusing Attack, which also requires more skills. After the first frontal push, you appear to give him another frontal push, but you move to a side and execute a side push. Or after the first frontal push, you appear to move to a side, but move in frontally to push him away.

Question 8

Can you please elaborate with short examples or techniques on Soft against hard, and vice versa?

Editorial Note: Sifu Leanard's other questions will be continued in the next issue, May 2016 Part 1.


The principle of soft against hard is applied when your opponent is stronger than you. This principle is frequently used in Taijiquan.

When an opponent attacks you with a thrust punch, for example, you ward off his forceful attack with a circular movement of Immortal Waves Sleeves. You await his next move, with your arm gently in contact with his, instead of moving in to counter-attack. If he moves in with another attack, you step slightly to a side and respond with Cross-Hnad Thrust Kick.

Instead of executing another hand strike as above, he executes a side-body kick. You lean back, without moving your feet, to avoid his kick, then move forward to fell him onto the ground with Carry Tiger Back to Mountain.

These responses are examples of using soft against hard. You do not press in, but wait for opportunities to counter attack when your opponent is at a disadvantageous position.

The principle of hard against soft is applied when you are stronger than your opponent. Xingyiquan uses this principle frequently.

If an opponent attacks you with a thrust punch, you counter-strike immediately with pi-quan, with your arm brushing off his attack as you attack. Or you may take the initiative and attack him with pi-quan before he makes any moves.

Irrespective of his response, you cover him with one hand, and strike him with the other hand using pi-quan again. For example, he may try to ward of your first attack. You brush off his defence, cover him and strike him with pi-quan again.

Or he may lean back and attempt to execute a kick at you. You move in swiftly as he lifts up his leg to kick but before he can kick, cover his hands and strike him with pi-quan again.

Irrespective of his response, lift up his one hand and strike him with the other hand using pao-quan. For example, he may try to grip your pi-quan with a chin-na technique. Lift up his gripping hand, and strike him with pao-quan. Or he may try to fell you onto the ground, Shift your footwork to neutralize his leverage advantage, lift up his one hand and strike him with pao-quan.

These responses are examples of employing hard against soft. Because of your forceful attack, you press in relentlessly, almost irrespective of his response!

If you have any questions, please e-mail them to Grandmaster Wong via his Secretary at stating your name, country and e-mail address.


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