. Answers to Readers' Questions and Answers — December 2017 (Part 3)


Zhang San Feng

The great Zhang San Feng

Question 1

The Fully Alive team often come back to the Treatise of Zhang San Feng. In particular we discuss the following:

Entering the Way, Nourish Heart, Stabilize Nature; Accumulate Energy, Focus Spirit.

— Sifu Tim Franklin, Shaolin Wahnam UK


The Treatise of Zhang San Feng is one of the most important records in internal art training. We in Shaolin Wahnam owes much to this treatise.

One of the greatest benefits of our training in any arts taught in our school is triple-cultivation, which means cultivation of "jing", "qi" and "shen", i.e. cultivation of the physical, energy and the spirit. Triple-cultivation, which is the hallmark of great kungfu and chi kung, was mentioned in kungfu and chi kung classics, but not many people today, including masters, really practice it.

In other words, when a student in our school practices a kungfu set, he does not only learn the physical form of the set and its combat application, but he also develops mental clarity and internal force, as well as cultivates his spirit. Other people, if they are lucky enough to access to the secrets, have to practice internal arts separately to attain mental clarity and internal force, and to practice meditation separately to attain spiritual cultivation.

It is worthy of note that our students can have triple-cultivation by practicing just kungfu, which to many other people is cultivation of the physical. But this does not mean they will not benefit if they also practice other exercises that specially focus on energy and spirit. In other words, by practicing kungfu, our students not only become healthy and fit physically, and understand the combat application, they also have internal force and are peaceful and happy without having to practice arts that develop energy and the spirit. But if they also practice arts of energy and of the spirit, they can enhance their internal force and spiritual cultivation.

The Treatise was written in classical Chinese in Taoist terms, which are usually arcane. It is therefore useful to explain the terms.

In "Entering the Way", the "Way" means "Tao". The phrase refers to starting Taoist cultivation, with the supreme aim of emerging with the Great Void. In Western terms it means returning to God the Holy Spirit, not God the Father in heaven.

Many Taoists, however, were contented to attaining immortality, which is of a lower level, though by itself it is very, very high level. Immortals are still in the phenomenal realm. Attaining immortality is like meeting God the Father in heaven, but immortals are like saints rather than ordinary heaven beings.

In "Nurturing Heart", "Heart" refers to the spiritual heart, which in Western language means the spirit, the real being rather than the physical body, which is constantly changing. The spirit does not change, but it develops. "Nurturing Heart" is spiritual cultivation. The supreme aim is to emerge the personal spirit with the Universal Spirit, which is eternal and infinite.

In "Stabilize Nature", "Nature" refers to original nature, which is the Tao, or in Western language it is God the Holy Spirit. Original Nature is eternal and infinite. There is no differentiation. But in the phenomenal realm, including in heaven and earth, beings perceive Original Nature as differentiated into myriad entities, like different beings and different things and processes. One interpretation of "Stabilize Nature" is to return to the undifferentiated, the eternal and infinite.

In "Accumulate Energy", energy is "qi" in Chinese, pronounced and usually written as "chi" in Western language. "Energy" here is not just air. Air in Chinese is "kong qi", literally meaning "energy of space".

"Accumulate Energy" is chi kung, pronounced and written in Romanized Chinese as "qigong". The accumulated energy is stored in "dan tian", which menas "energy fields". The primary "dan tian" is located about two or three inches below the navel.

In "Focus Spirit", spirit is "shen" in Chinese. "Shen" is sometimes wrongly translated as "gods", who are a special category of "shen". "Shen" here refers to the human spirit. In other context, "shen" may refer to the spirit of other beings, like nature spirits, fairies and ghosts.

For most people, their spirit is "scattered", or disturbed by myriad thoughts. "Focus Spirit" means concentrate the spirit to be one-pointed which also results in mental clarity. When the spirit is focused, the aspirant can better cultivate it.

Question 2

We have found this treatise especially helpful in our own training, and were wondering if you could expand further on what you have already written, in terms of:

  1. What it means for daily living
  2. How nature is disturbed
  3. How heart is not peaceful


The Treatise of Zhang San Feng is specially meant for Taoist spiritual cultivation, but it can also be used to enrich our daily life irrespective of one's religion.

The spirit is the real being, the body is not. The body changes constantly. Each time a person breathes out, millions of cells are disposed off, and each time he breaths in, millions of cells are formed. Most people are unaware of this scientific fact. Most people believe, wrongly, that they are their physical bodies.

As the spirit is the real being, although most people may not realize it, it is important that the spirit is peaceful and happy in daily living. If a person's spirit is disturbed, his daily living will be unpleasant. If his spirit is stressful, he will be depressed. If his spirit is ill, it may manifest in his body as physical illness.

Spiritual cultivation is not just cultivating to achieve the highest spiritual attainment, which is merging with Cosmic Reality, called by different terms like attaining the Tao, returning to God the Holy Spirit, or attaining Buddhahood. Spiritual cultivation is for daily living.

It is the spirit that is involved in daily living, not the body. As a matter of priority, one may not aim for the highest attainment yet, as taught in the Treatise of Zhang San Feng, but he should aim to have peace and happiness, which is also taught in the Treatise of Zhang San Feng.

Silent Sitting, or jing zuo, is an excellent method to attain peace of mind. Traditionally, Silent Sitting is performed sitting in a lotus or semi-lotus position, which can eventually lead to the highest spiritual attainment. But as we have become very effective in our school, we can achieve similar results by standing upright in standing meditation.

When one opens his heart, he attains happiness. We do this every time we practice any of our arts. It is no surprise, therefore, that Shaolin Wahnam family members are happy.

Nature, or transcendental Cosmic Realty, is disturbed when thoughts arise. Thoughts start the endless transformation of transcendental Cosmic Reality, which is undifferentiated, into the phenomenal world, which is differentiated into myriad entities.

The phenomenal world is a function of thought. The moon, or any entity, is not there if no one conceptualizes it! In fact, the word "phenomenal" means "appearance". The phenomenal world appears to us the way it does because of the ways, like our sense organs, interpret transcendental energy. If we change our ways of interpreting energy, the appearance of the world will be different. A bacterium or a fairy, for example, would see what we see very differently.

"Heart" in classical Chinese, in which the Treatise of Zhang San Feng was written, means "mind". The heart, or mind, is not peaceful when it is disturbed by countless thoughts, which is common to most people. When thoughts enter the mind, they disturb the peacefulness of the heart, or mind.

Hence, in Silent Sitting, or in standing meditation in our school, practitioners keep the mind free from all thoughts. The method is simple, though it may not be easy for many other people. When thoughts arise, just throw them away without fuss and without question.

Taijiquan, Tai Chi Chuan

When our Shaolin Wahnam members practice any art in our school now, they perform triple-cultivation

Question 3

How may one apply the Treatise in particular to your teachings?


Much of my teachings in Shaolin Wahnam is based on the Treatise of Zhang San Feng. Indeed, our instructors and students benefit more from my teachings now than what I benefited from my own sifus. Of course, I am very grateful to all my sifus for their teachings. They were the best I could find, and they taught me the best they could, and I learned the best I could.

The difference, therefore, is due not to my sifu's teaching and my teaching, but due to the Treatise of Zhang San Feng. The main contribution of the Treatise is triple-cultivation. I did triple-cultivation separately, which was a great achievement. Our instructors and students do triple-cultivation at the same time, which is a greater achievement. When I learned from my sifus, I learned kungfu, internal force and spiritual cultivation separately. Now our Shaolin Wahnam instructors and students learn kungfu, internal force and spiritual cultivation all at the same time.

In other words, when I learned kungfu, like "Four Gates" for example, I only learned it at a physical level, like its set and its combat application. For internal force, I had to practice One-Finger Shooting Zen. For spiritual cultivation, I had to practice sitting meditation. But now when our Shaolin Wahnam instructor and students learn kungfu, they also develop internal force and attain spiritual cultivation at the same time.

Our instructors and students also practice energy cultivation, like One-Finger Shooting Zen and Lifting Water, and spiritual cultivation, like standing meditation. These exercises are for enhancement. In other words, if they do not practice these exercises for energy cultivation and spiritual cultivation, they also have internal force and inner peace and happiness by just practicing their kungfu. But if they also practice these exercises, they have more internal force, and inner peace and happiness.

Indeed, considering the amount of benefits from the amount of time spent on practice, our instructors and students now get more internal force and happiness by practicing kungfu, than I got from separately practicing energy exercise and spiritual exercise. In other words, by spending half an hour on kungfu practice, our instructors and students get more internal force and happiness, than I got in my student's days from spending half an hour on an energy exercise, like One-Finger Shooting Zen, or on a spiritual exercise, like meditation.

We in Shaolin Wahnam have become so cost-effective that we have to lower our potential in our practice, like practicing at 30% and not at the potential of 100%. Our instructors and students are specifically asked not to get the most from their practice, as this will lead to over-training, but to enjoy their practice, and not to worry or intellectualize even when they realize they have made some mistakes due to carelessness or forgetfulness.

My practice during my student's days, like that of all dedicated students and masters, was "ku lian", which is "bitter training". The practice of our instructors and students is "not to worry, not to intellectualize, and enjoy the practice". It is almost a joke.

How do we practice triple-cultivation? By entering silence. In chi kung contect, it is entering into a chi kung state of mind. In Shaolin context, it is entering Zen. In Taijiquan context, it is entering Tao. In Western language, it is entering a higher level of consciousness. The Treatise clearly states that "you must empty your mind of all thoughts and not tense any muscles." It is actually so simple, but in practice it is very difficult for most people.

Question 4

Can you please tell us the various methods of Entering the Way, Nourishing Heart, Stabilizing Nature, Accumulating Energy, and Focusing Spirit?


I shall firstly mention the methods stated in the Treatise of Zhang San Feng, and then the methods used in our school.

"Entering the Way" means starting Taoist cultivation. In the Treatise, which was called "Focusing Spirit Accumulating Energy Treatise in Grand Ultimate Practice", which means "Treatise of Spiritual Cultivation and Energy Training in the Practice of Taijiquan" in modern language, the aim of Taoist cultivation was not to be combat efficient, not even just to have good health, but to merge with the Tao, or to return to God the Holy Spirit in Western language. The principal method is sitting meditation.

In our school, "entering the way" means learning our Shaolin Wahnam arts. Our aim is not to merge with the Tao, though we sometimes have a glimpse of it, but to enrich our daily life. The main methods is to practice our chi kung or kungfu.

"Nourishing Heart" means spiritual cultivation. The supreme aim was to merge with the Tao. The methods were sitting meditation and practicing Taijiquan. In our school, "Nourishing Heart" is also spiritual cultivation. However, our aim is not to merge with the Tao, but to enrich our daily life. Our methods are to practice chi kung and kungfu.

"Stabilizing Nature" means keeping the original nature still so that thoughts will not arise. Original nature is the universal spread of energy without any differentiation. If thoughts arise, original nature will start its transformation into the phenomenal world. This happens all the time. The method advocated by the Treatise is sitting meditation.

In our school, "Stabilizing Nature" is leeping the mind clear of all thoughts to attain mental clarity. Unlike in the Treatise which aim to attain transcendental Cosmic Reality where there is no differentiation, we operate in the phenomenal world where there is differentiation. Our main method is standing meditation.

"Accumulating Energy" is to develop internal force. In the Treatise this principle is operated in the phenomenal realm, and can be attained by practicing Taijiquan. The Treatise advised that in the Taijiquan set "all the patterns must be performed continuously in one gentle, graceful flow without any break." In the Treatise, the internal force developed could lead to merging with the Great Void.

In our school, "Accumulating Energy" is also developing internal force. We follow the advice of the Treateise that "all the patterns must be performed continuously in one gentle, graceful flow without any break." But we apply this principle not just in Taijiquan but in all other forms of kungfu we practice. And unlike in the Treatise which aimed at eventually merging with the Tao, we employ internal force in the phenomenal world to enrich our daily life.

"Focusing Spirit" in the Treatise was to focus the personal spirit, or soul, so as to eventually merge with the Universal Spirit, or the Great Void. The main method was sitting mediation.

In our school, "Focusing Spirit" is interpreted as clearing the mind of all thoughts to attain mental clarity. Our main method is standing meditation. We practice this aspect of spiritual cultivation to be effective in our daily life.

Wing Choon Chi Sau

Chi sau or sticking hands, in our school is quite different from chi sau in many other Wing Choon schools

Question 5

In your translation it also mentions not to neglect sitting meditation. What are your thoughts on this now?


In the Treatise of Zhang San Feng, the practice of Taijiquan is to merge with the Tao. Sitting mediation, in a lotus or semi-lotus position, was very important.

I once asked my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, whether I could practice sitting meditation on a seat instead of in a lotus or semi-lotus position. He told me that sitting on a seat to practice meditation could achieve lower level of benefits, but if I wanted very high level benefits I had to practice sitting meditation in a lotus or at least a semi-lotus position.

As I wanted the best in my training, I practiced leg-stretching exercises every night for about two years before I could sit in a semi-lotus position in sitting meditation. It is worthy of note that to want the best in their training, Shaolin Wahnam members today should not practice at their potential as this will lead to over-training, but practice lower than their potential, at about 30%.

As we have become ridiculously cost-effective now, we can perform meditation at a standing position. Just consider that even monks cultivating professionally in a monastery would take a few years practicing sitting meditation every day to attain a satori, or spiritual awakening, whereas many of our students could do so in just a few hours, you would have some idea how ridiculously cost-effective we have been.

Hence, my thoughts now on mediation, which means training of mind, spirit or soul, is that sitting meditation in a lotus or semi-lotus position is not necessary. We can achieve similar or even higher results with standing meditation.

There are two reasons for this development of my thoughts on meditation. The first reason is that ours is basically a chi kung and kungfu school, not a school of spiritual cultivation. Our main aim is to enrich our daily life, not to merge with the Tao.

The second reason is that we have become ridiculously cost-effect. We can attain similar or even high results with standing meditation and in shorter time than many other people can attain in sitting meditation.

Question 6

I did some research about Sitaigung Choe Hoong Choy in some Wing Choon Kung Fu websites, and I found some very interesting information about Sitaigung Choe. Is it true that Sitaigung Choe learned in his earlier years from Sifu Sam Chan who had learned from Sifu Choe Soon? The information mentioned that Sifu Sam Chan passed down historical knowledge and several weapons sets to Sitaigung Choe.

— Dimitri, Austria


I don't know whether my sifu, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, learned from Sifu Sam Chan.

My sifu once told me that he learned from only one sifu, my Sigung Choe Onn. He said that if the lineage was excellent, learning from one sifu was enough.

My sifu also told me that he returned to Phoon Yu District in China to practice chi sau, or sticking hands, for about two years with his sigung, i.e. my sitaigung, Choe Chun.

My Wing Choon lineage is as follows:

Yim Wing Choon --> Leong Phok Khow --> Leong Yi Tai --> Yik Kam --> Choe Tuck Seng --> Choe Soon --> Choe Chun --> Choe Onn --> Choy Hoong Choy --> Wong Kiew Kit

As Sifu Sam Chan learned from my sijanggung Choe Soon, he was very senior in our lineage. He would be in the same hierarchy as my sitaigung, Choe Chun.

Reverse Kicking of Purple Bells of Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques

Question 7

Can you please give a brief philosophical background of the Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques.

— George, United Kingdom


I am not sure when the Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques were first listed, but I believe it could be during the Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th century). These 36 Leg Techniques were not listed in the Shaolin Classic written during the earlier Song Dynasty.

I was much impressed by a modern classic, "Shaolin 24 Leg Techniques", written by a modern master, Sifu Li Ying Erng, which I bought more than 40 years ago. As the title reveals, this modern classic lists 24 leg techniques, and not 36.

In Chinese the term "Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques" is "Shao Lin San Shi Liu Tui Fa". I have translated it as Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques, which is what is meant in Chinese, and not 36 Kicks because some of the techniques, like "elephant step" and "buttock strike", though involving the leg, are not kicks.

It is also worthwhile to mention that they are techniques, or "fa" in Chinese, and not kungfu patterns, or "shi". There may be a few different patterns for the same technique. For example, the patterns "White Crane Flaps Wings", "Fui Sin Kicks Bushel", and "Single Leg Hungry Crane" can be employed to implement the "organ-seeking kick" besides the pattern mentioned in our list, which is "Yellow Oriole Drinks Water".

Because of its long history, there are different versions of the 36 Leg Techniques. The version listed in http://www.shaolin.org/shaolin/36-leg-techniques/36-leg-techniques.html and practiced in the course, was created by me. In creating this list, I researched into whatever material I could find.

I found more than 36 leg techniques. Hence, these extra techniques, like "foot hook", "side sweep", and "foot step", are not listed in our version of Shaolin 36 Leg Techniques.

In "foot hook", after hooking an opponent's foot with our foot, we fell him using our knee. In "side sweep" we fell an opponent by sweeping his leg near his foot from a side. In "foot step" we fell an opponent or break his leg by stepping with our foot with our toes pointing outward like in a unicorn step, whereas in "step kick" (which is found in our list), we step on him with our toes pointing inward.

In the technique called "Double Flying Kicks", some sources, like "Shaolin 24 Leg Techniques" of Sifu Li Ying Erng, use the pattern "Flying Thrust Kicks in the Air", or "Ling Hong Fei Chang" in Chinese. You jump up onto an opponent, turn your body sideways and kick your opponent with both soles of your feet like a double thrust kick. This, I believe, was much influenced by Bruce Lee's famous flying kick, though he used one leg to kick instead of two, with the other leg covering his groin. My siheng, Ah Liang, is well known for this "Flying Thrust Kick in the Air" using one kick and not two.

For this technique of "Double Flying Kick", I prefer the pattern "Single Leg Flying Crane", where an exponent jumps up in the air and uses a double "organ-seeking kick" at an opponent's groin, while the exponent's hands act as a feint at the opponent's eyes. This is a deadly attack.

There are some crucial difference between "Flying Thrust Kicks in the Air" and "Single Leg Flying Crane". In the former pattern, the exponent's body is sideways and he uses his soles as striking points as he kicks both legs at his opponent's body at the same time. In the latter pattern, the exponent's body is upright and he uses his insteps as striking points as he kicks both legs one after another at the opponent's groin.

I remember that when I first read the modern classic, "Shaolin 24 Leg Techniques" more than 40 years ago, I was puzzled by Sifu Li Ying Erng's explanation of the pattern, "Flying Thrust Kicks in the Air", for the technique "Double Flying Kick". I thought the flying kick was executed with the instep using the "organ-seeking kick" and not the soles using the sideways thrust kick.

I also recall the time my sifu. Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, visited my kungfu club while I was teaching in Kuala Trengganu, Malaysia about 40 years ago. A student demonstrated a single "Flying Thrust Kick in the Air", excellently like Bruce Lee did, and my sifu praised him highly. However, when my sifu demonstrated a single flying kick, it was an organ-seeking kick while jumping high up in the air, like "Swallow Flying through the Clouds", though it was aimed at an opponent's groin and not at his throat.

Question 8

Are the 36 Leg Techniques from Northern Shaolin or Southern Shaolin?


These 36 Leg Techniques are from both Northern Shaolin and Southern Shaolin. Some of these leg techniques are also found in other kungfu styles, like the thrust kick in Taijiquan in "Cross-Hands Thrust Kick", the double flying kick in Xingyiquan in "Colorful Swallow Doubly Flies", the clutch kick in Drunken Eight Immortals in "Immortal Li Steps on Clutch", and the spade kick in the Monkey Style in "Spiritual Monkey Tests Cave".

There are more leg techniques in kungfu sets of Northern Shaolin than of Southern Shaolin. In a Northern Shaolin kungfu set of about 72 patterns, for example, there may be more than 30 leg techniques, whereas in a Southern Shaolin kungfu set of about 72 patterns, there may be only about 5 to 10 leg techniques, hence there is a kungfu saying, "Northern kicks and Southern fists".

This does not mean that leg techniques are not important in Southern Shaolin. Many Southern Shaolin masters, like Foong Sai Yoke, Wong Fei Hoong, Choy Pak Tat and Mok Cheng Kiew were famous for kicks. Fong Sai Yoke was famous for his organ-seeking kick, Wong Fei Hoong for his tiger-tail kick, Choy Pak Tat for his drake-duck kick, and Mok Cheng Kiew for her back-thrust kick. (Some masters from Mok Cheng Kiew's lineage mentioned that Mok Cheng Kiew was a man and not a woman.) Both Choy-Ka Kungfu (or Choy Family Kungfu) and Mok Ka Kungfu (or Mok Family Kungfu), founded by Choy Pak Tat and Mok Cheng Kiew, are well known for kicks.

Interestingly, when I counted the 36 leg techniques for fun for Northern and Southern Shaolin Kungfu, I found only 3 leg techniques not normally found in Southern Shaolin, but 4 not normally found in Northern Shaolin!

The 3 leg techniques not normally found in Southern Shaolin are nail kick, swaying kick, and spade kick, represented by the patterns, "Heron Enters Nest", "Light Breeze Sways Lotus" and "Spiritual Monkey Tests Cave". The 4 leg techniques not normally found in Northern Shaolin are front-body tiger-tail kick, squat leg, stomp step, and reverse thrust kick, represented by the patterns, "Fierce Tiger Springs Claws", "Fierce Tiger Crouches on Ground", "Old Elephant Stomps Ground" and "Reverse Thrust Leg Technique".

I attribute this surprising occurrence to the fact that this version of 36 leg techniques were selected by me, and as I am more familiar with Southern Shaolin, it is understandable that there is a preference of Southern Shaolin leg techniques to Northern ones.

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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