SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JULY 1998 PART 2
I am 36 years old, a new student to the martial arts, and have been studying Tai Chi for 14 months — Yang style. I am interested in all aspects of the art and practice the short, and long form twice a day. I also include the short sword in my practice.
— Jon, USA
It is good to be interested in all aspects of the art, but your way of training is typical of virtually all beginners, which is learning, learning and learning. In this way, even if you continue learning for 14 years you will still remain a beginner or learner.
How, then, can you graduate from the beginner's or learner's level to work towards the master's level. Simply follow the way of training of the masters, and it is practicing, practicing and practicing.
You and many others may find it hard to believe, but if your aim is to be a Taijiquan master and not merely a Taiji dancer, you will certainly benefit more if you spend 14 months focusing on only one form — irrespective of whether it is the short or the long form.
But you should also spend a little time, say about 2 or 3 hours a week, practicing the other forms, not to master them but to enable you not to forget them and perhaps to use them should you for some reasons need to demonstrate a Taiji dance.
Form training is only one aspect of the art. If you only practice form, you will be merely paying lip service to your statement that you are interested in all aspects of the art. You should spend at least 30% of your training time, preferably more, on developing force, in such exercises as “Lifting Water”, “Cloud Hands” and “Three Circles Stance”; and another at least 30% on combat application.
During the first wave hands like clouds in the long form, I felt myself getting heavy, solid from my waist down while my upper body got extremely light. Next, I felt an incredible sense of tranquility overcome me. I felt as though I was sinking into a calm, happy, peaceful place. I sensed that I had left, up above, many thoughts that were no longer of importance and could see how foolish I was to have held some of them so dear: emotions (fear, anger, greed, etc.), career (advancement, promotions, seniority, money, etc.), relationships (family members, friends), time (days, weeks).
All these things hovered above, floating by themselves, not longer my concern. With these items stripped away, it was just me. Myself. I felt as though I was waist high in a river yet I was not wet. A sense that this river flowed forever without beginning or end; all around and encompassed all with an incredible sense of power yet magnificient gentleness. It was at this moment that I felt myself smile and a small laugh. One thought: to be. To simply exist. That is all that one needs to know. All of mankind's extensive search for knowledge and truth is right inside of him. External search just leads further away.
Congratulations for this wonderful experience. This is an indication that you are on the right path. The heaviness and solidness from your waist down is due to chi, or intrinsic energy, “sinking” to your dan tian, or abdominal energy field. Through further training, the accumulation of chi becomes stronger and you will be able to use this as the source of your internal power. You may, for example, while performing the Cloud Hands, direct by visualizing your chi to flow to your arms and hands but still maintaining the main portion at your dan tian.
The lightness above and incrediable sense of tranquility is the result of “nourishing your shen (or spirit). This is spiritual (but not religious) — you have experienced what many practitioners, including instructors, have read about in Taijiquan classics, but doubted if it was true because they have never experienced it.
Your feeling of inner peace and happinese is intrinsic; it blossoms from within. This is because your training has opened up your heart meridian, resulting in a bountiful flow of vital energy all over your body. In Chinese terms, "heart" refers not just to the organ heart; it also refers to the mind or spirit. In fact a Chinese term for being happy is "kai xin" (or "hoi sum" in the Cantonese pronunciation), which literally means "open heart", i.e. opening the heart meridian.
Asking why opening the heart meridian will lead to a feeling of inner peace and happiness, is like asking why gastric juices digest food in the stomach, or why the lungs take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide. The answer is all these processes are natural. The West in general does not know about this relationship between the heart meridian and happiness because in the history of Western philosophy and science, Westerners have paid little attention (so far) to internal energy flow.
Your statement that "all of mankind's extensive search for knowledge and truth is right inside of him" is a great cosmic truth. In your meditative state of mind during your practice, you touched the Universal Mind, and had access to wisdom, not just knowledge.
This episode lasted for 30 seconds, and I have been unable to duplicate except for the tingling sensation in the hands and fingers. Did I experience a glimpse of harmony of mind, body, and spirit? With continued practice of Tai Chi, will I return to this place? This has been a remarkable event in my life, and it has encouraged me to continue practicing.
That 30 seconds is timeless; it confirms for you in direct personal experience that what past masters have written about the spiritual dimension of Taijiquan is true. But while this experience is fantastic by itself, it is only the beginning.
You still have a long way to go, but you have “entered the way”; what you need is to continue. You will have similar experiences in future. Yes, you experienced a glimpse of harmony of mind, body and spirit, or in Chinese terms harmony of jin, qi, shen — essence, energy and spirit.
At first I did my exercises all by myself, but after around a year my friends asked -- what are you doing, you seem much healthier and younger nowadays. So I told them, and they wanted to learn for themselves. So I translated the instructions and we started a group.
— Marianne, Sweden
Congratulations. I am glad of your progress.
After a couple of years a woman asked me if I were interested in teaching Chi Kung to disabled people, who had suffered from different types of psycho-somatic diseases for years. They all were what we call hopeless cases, so they had nothing to lose. The leader of the group is a General Practitioner with orthopaedics as speciality. She participated too, and all of the group members gained better health after they had practised Chi Kung for some months.
This is wonderful. Nevertheless, it is not advisable to teach chi kung unless you are properly trained because it is easy to cause insidious effects which you may not know. But it appears you have done very well.
I think time is ripe for us Westerners to learn how to relate to the fact that body and soul are united and not two separate parts of man.
You are right: body and soul are a unity. Ancient and classical Westerners knew and believed in this fact. For some reasons, many modern Westerners separate the soul from the body; some even deny that the soul exists.
I want to say Thank you for the book “The Art of Chi Kung”. It has opened a different world to me, where I found talents I didn't knew I had and where I found harmony and balance in life.
I am glad of your progress. Many people have told me that they have gained much from my books. Some of them then invited me to their place to teach them personally.
To their pleasant surprise they found that what they gained from my personal teaching is much, much more than what they had gained from my books. This is expected and logical.
The best of any internal arts can only be transmitted personally — what in Zen terms is described as transmission from heart to heart.
I have been instructed on the uses of Monkey's Paw and Monkey strikes, the stances and characters of the Five Monkeys and Monkey cross kicks and low stance front kicks. Are there any techniques you are aware of that I might not know. I understand that each character of the Five Monkeys takes on their own flavor of each technique, but I'm not aware of any techniques other than those I have listed. If you might know of any others or anyone who might, I would be grateful for that information.
— Todd, USA
Monkey Style Kungfu is well known for its agility and deceptive nature. The knuckles, elbows, knees, shins and toes are also effectively used.
You may, for example, brush away an opponent's hand attack or leg attack with the monkey paw, then, while using the other hand as a feint move across his face, thrust your monkey paw forward with your arm moving along the opponent's arm or leg, and strike his side ribs or groin with your knuckles, simultaneously thrusting your pointed toes into his ankles.
Making faces at the opponent to cause him to loose his temper, or spitting on him to distract him are also effective monkey tactics.
You told me that if my practice of an hour a day is apporpriate I should reach a good standard within a year. I am sorry if this is a rather inevitable question but I would be most appreciative if you would point me in the right direction as to what is appropriate.
— Richard, UK
What is appropriate in your practice (about an hour a day) so that you can attain a fairly high level in a year, depends on numerous factors like you aims and objectives, your needs and abilities as well as available instructions and supportive material.
Presuming that your aim is to learn genuine Taijiquan (and not Taiji dance), that you are willing to put in some time and effort, and that you have difficulty finding a good master in your area but you have my “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan” as supportive material, I would suggest the following training programme.
The time frames are suggestions and in most cases may run concurrently. For example, you need not wait for one month and two hours before starting “Lifting Water”; you can start immediately or perhaps two weeks later.
- Read “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan” and other Taijiquan books if availbale, to have a sound understanding of the philosophy, scope and depth of Taijiquan — about 1 month.
- Define your aims and objectives. You may, for example, aim to find out whether you can experience the wonderful benefits of Taijiquan by following my suggestions, and your objectives may include experiencing some internal force through the “Lifting Water” exercise, and attaining balance and relaxation through various Taijiquan movements — two hours.
- Practice “Lifting Water” for six months. Refer to my book for details.
- Practice the Wuji Stance after “Lifting Water” — six months.
- Practice the fundamental Taijiquan movements described in chapter 5 of my book — three months. Begin this stage only after at least one month of “Lifting Water” and “Wuji Stance”. Seek an instructor to get your movements smooth and proper. Even if the instructor teaches Taiji dance instead of Taijiquan, you still can get much benefit from him regarding the Taijiquan movements. It is alright if the movements he teaches are different form the ones I describe in my book.
- Learn and practice the 24-Pattern Taijiquan Simplified Set (described in Chapter 7 of my book) or any suitable Taijiquan set from a master if you are lucky enough to find one, or from a Taiji dance instructor — 4 months. Learn this or any other Taijiquan set only after you have spent some time over the fundamental Taijiquan movements in stage 5.
- Continue to practice the Taijiquan set but with focus on energy flow and mind — 4 months. Refer to my book for guidance.
- Get a partner to practce “Pushing Hands” — 3 months. If you can't find a partner, use an imaginary partner.
- Get a real or imaginary partner to practice combat application of Taijiquan — 4 months.
As he has about 30 people in the once-per-week class, my teacher doesn't have enough time to teach us about the aspects of cultivating energy and mind. In general, we run-through the form, do some Chi Kung exercises and some 'polishing' of our form or some basic push hands practice.
— John, Australia
What your teacher does is the norm. Considering his aims and objectives in teaching classes, one of which is to hold the interest of most students as much as possible, he is perfectly right in his way.
Becoming a Taijiquan master, or even be reasonably good at Taijiquan, is not the norm. Only one out of a few hundred students will eventually become a real master; may be about 20 out of a hundred can be reasonable good at Taijiquan. And the aspirant has to train not just once a week, but every day.
I asked my teacher about learning a lot of postures, and he suggested that he emphasizes learning the forms as that seems to be what holds most people's interest. I can understand how some people wouldn't have the patience to just practice two postures, for example, but from what I've read (and you now seem to confirm) I'm not sure that it's the best way to learn although it might be the fastest (in a fashion).
My master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, gave me an invaluable advice: “We do not learn kungfu; we practice kungfu!”
Learning as many patterns or techniques as fast as you can is the “fastest” way, but not a good way in kungfu (including Taijiquan) training. In my younger days, I could sometimes learn a complete kungfu set by merely watching it performed once, or at the most five times. But this did not bring me any real benefit in kungfu training.
It is only through practicing over and over again what you have learnt that you can develop your skills. If you keep on learning, you will end up becoming a learner, no matter how many years you may have spent in its learning process. Mastering an art, be it kungfu or cooking, football or painting, calls for mastery over skills, not knowledge of many techniques.
From what you have written, it would seem my best approach might be to do something like the following
- Practice one or two dynamic Chi Kung exercises, as well as doing some self-manifested movements, to help develop internal energy
- Extend into abdominal breathing practice under the guidance of a master ONLY after having done the Chi Kung exercises for some months
- Practice doing one or two of the Tai Chi postures and 'getting them right'
- Practice one or two of the 13 techniques, 'getting them right'
Is this what you were suggesting? Have I understood you correctly?
Yes, but this is only the start. You have to get into the Taijiquan techniques too.
One good way is to learn and practice a typical Taijiquan set well. At the same time you continue with your force or skill training.
When you are famailiar with the Taijiquan techniques, and have sufficient skills, proceed to combat application.
You should also ensure that your Taijiquan training has enrich your daily life, such as you have mental clarity and vitality in your work and play.
What exercises would you suggest I do from your book to be able see all available options.
— Mike, USA
In chi kung training, it is often how you practice, and not what your practice, that is important.
Nevertheless, “Lifting the Sky” is a wonderful exercise. As it can be beneficial to beginners as much as to masters, it may give you a glimpse of all chi kung options.
What would you suggest I do about doing Chi Kung in a noisy place. You see I live with a room mate and by a noisy street so I get distracted quite easily.
Wake up half an hour earlier each day, go to the nearest park or garden and practice your chi kung there. The benefits you will get will far outweight your effort or trouble.
How does modern Chinese wushu (such as that taught at the Shaolin Monastery) differ from “traditional” kung fu?
— Karl, Sweden
The term “wushu” actually means “martial art”, i.e. what in the West would be refered to as kungfu.
However, the present Chinese government has explicitly stated that it is promoting wushu as a sport and not as a martial art.
This then is the crucial difference. Modern wushu is a sport, whereas traditional kungfu is a martial art.
Logically if you practice modern wushu as a sport, you will get benefits which sports generally give, such as keeping fit and healthy, recreation, opportunities to compete within certain rules, and public demonstration.
Since modern wushu is originally derived from traditional kungfu, you may, after considerable guidance from a kungfu master and further practice on your own, apply the dance-like wushu movements for self-defence. But by itself, modern wushu is not capable for combat, simply because its training is not meant for such a purpose.
If you match a world wushu champion, for example, against a karate blackbelt or a western style boxer, it is most likely that the wushu champion will be beaten badly. If you compare the demonstration of wushu against that of karate or western boxing, there is, in my opinion, nothing in karate, western boxing or any other martial arts or sports that can match the superb elegance and beauty of wushu movements.
Traditional kungfu is fundamentally a martial art, i.e. its training is geared towards combat. However, for various reasons, many schools that teach traditional kungfu today may not be able to use traditional kungfu movements for self-defence. If such exponents have to fight, they usually use techniques borrowed from other martial systems, particularly from karate, taekwondo and kickboxing.
If you match exponents of karate, western boxing or other martial systems against genuine kungfu exponents, basing on purely theroetical principles, the kungfu exponents will win, although in real life this may not be true because there are many other practical factors involved besides theroetical considerations.
If history can be of any indication, kungfu is superior to other martial arts; virtually all masters of various martial arts from many countries, such as Japan, Korea, Russia and France, who went to China to test her kungfu masters in the early twentieth century, were convincingly defeated.
Great kungfu like Shaolin and Taijiquan is more than merely a martial art. It is a complete and comprehensive programme for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual cultivation, leading to the highest attainment any person can ever attain, called variously as enlightenment, unity with the Cosmos or return to God.
Is it possible for a foreign student to come and train at your school for a period of time? I do not mean a 1 week intensive course, I mean regular training over a prolonged period of time.
It is possible but not feasible for the time being. Because of my extensive and frequent travel to teach chi kung and sometimes kungfu in many countries, it is difficult for me to be at one place for a long period.
However if my vision of building some sort of a Shaolin Temple in Malaysia materializes, then deserving students can come here to train for prolonged periods. But this realization is at least many years away.