SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
SEPTEMBER 1998 PART 1
I've been interested in the workings of Tai Ch'i for a long time. However, most people consider it only a form of therapeutic exercise. Are there any forms of Tai Ch'i with a focus on self-defense?
— Zach, United States
Tai Chi Chuan, or Taijiquan in Romanized Chinese spelling, is an exceedingly effective martial art. You will find a lot of information on Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art in my book, “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”. You can also find much information in my Tai Chi Chuan website.
For various reasons, Tai Chi Chuan has been so debased today that an overwhelming majority of those practicing it do not even know that it is a martial art. Interestingly, most of them call it “Tai Chi” instead of “Tai Chi Chuan” which is the propoer term.
“Tai Chi”, literally meaning “Grand Ultimate”, is a Chinese classical term for the cosmos, and it is also used in many other disciplines such as Taoism, feng shui (or the classical study of environmental energy flow), astrology as well as other styles of kungfu. The term “Tai Chi” in Tai Chi Praying Mantis Kungfu, for example, has nothing to do with Tai Chi Chuan.
Practicing Tai Chi Chuan is not just a therapeutic exercise, it is an excellent way to promote good health. In other words, you don't have to be sick or want to fight, in oder to enjoy the benefits of Tai Chi Chuan. And good health here is not just physical, but also emotional, mental as well as spiritual (but not religious). Nevertheless, to gain these benefits you have to practice Tai Chi Chuan, not just Tai Chi forms or Tai Chi dance.
As if to rub salt to injury, many people do not even practice Tai Chi dance; they “play” it. The expression “playing Tai Chi” is not only used in the West, but also among many Chinese in the East. The crucial difference is that when you practice Tai Chi you go over and over again the dancelike movements you have learnt so as to become a good Tai Chi dancer, whereas when you play Tai Chi you nonchalantly perform dancelike Tai Chi movements to while away your time. On the other hand, when you practice Tai Chi Chuan, you train hard, and sometimes enduringly, martial Tai Chi Chuan movements, paying attention to energy and mind, to gain good health, combat efficiency and spiritual joy.
This does not necessarily mean that playing Tai Chi is not beneficial. Indeed, for some people, like the elderly who have a lot of time to spare or businessmen and professionals who have a lot of stress, playing Tai Chi is probably more beneficial than training Tai Chi Chuan. Genuine Tai Chi Chuan training is certainly not easy, and for most people is no fun, but for the very few who have the rare oppotunity to learn from real Tai Chi Chuan masters and who are ready to invest time and effort (not merely pay lip service that they will sacrifice everyting to acquire a great art) the benefits are so wonderful that they may not have thought them possible.
All forms of Tai Chi Chuan, without a single exception, focus on self-defense, otherwise it cannot be Tai Chi Chuan. The term “Chuan” in Tai Chi Chuan means martial art. All movements in Tai Chi Chuan, including innocent-looking ones like lifting the arms up and bringing the hands back at the start and at the end of a Tai Chi Chuan set, are there for combat, and not for spectator-pleasing or even therapeutic, considerations. Actually, while many people all over the world play or dance Tai Chi, very, very few practice Tai Chi Chuan.
I have been practising the Ba Duan Jin exercises and Zhan Zhuang for the last 12 months and have experienced an improvement in my health (already good) and an increase in my energy. As there are no high level teachers in my area I prefer to practice every day on my own and so far I have not experienced any deviations.
— Alan, UK
Ba Duan Jin and Zhang Zhang are wonderful chi kung exercises. By themselves, without having to learn anything else, you can attain very high levels. Not only you can have good health, vitality and longevity, you may also attain spiritual fulfilment. If you are a martial artist, Zhan Zhang can bring you tremendous internal force. It is simply amazing that by merely standing still at a chosen posture for some time over a long period, you can be very powerful — most people do not beleive this is possible.
But if you train on your own, you must pay attention to the following points. Practice Ba Duan Jin, or the Eight Pieces of Brocade, daily for at least six months before you attempt Zhan Zhang, or Stance Standing. You have to make sure you do not have any major energy blockage before starting Zhan Zhang, and Ba Duan Jin can look after that, provided, of course, you practice correctly.
Zhan Zhang is a powerful exercise, and is best done under supervision. Those who practice wrongly and still persist on, may vomit blood, have deformed bodily structure, or insidiously damaged internal organs. There are usually warning signs for wrong practice, such as discomfort, pain and nervousness. Whenever you have such warning signs, stop your Zhan Zhang and revert back to Ba Duan Jin. Resume Zhan Zhang training only when the warning signs have disappeared.
If you practice Zhan Zhang on your own, which is actually not advisable but may be attempted if you are very careful, you have to proceed very slowly; I repeat, very slowly. If someone training with a master takes 6 months to attain certain result, you should aim at that for two years.
I am studying Shiatsu and Wing Chun and would like to ask you if the type of Chi Kung I am doing is suitable for developing both healing energy for Shiatsu and Jing for martial arts?
Yes, Ba Duan Jin is good for Shiatsu, and Zhan Zhang for Wing Chun. After your Shiatsu practice, flick your hands as if flicking away some water on your fingers, so as to flick out any negative energy you may have taken in from your patients.
Also do I need to take any special precautions when doing the Shiatsu treatments so as to avoid giving away too much energy?
Although some of your energy may flow into the patient, basically Shiatsu treatment involves massaging or manipulating his vital points at his soles to stimulate his own energy to flow. This is different from treatment by a chi kung therapist who channels his energy into the patient.
Hence, in Shiatsu treatment, you need not worry much about loosing your own energy. But an urgent concern is to prevent the patient's bad energy from back-flowing to you. Thus you have to flick your hands after each practice.
Usually I will do the Ba Duan Jin exercises first and then do the standing Chi Kung immediately afterwards for 20 minutes. Is this approach correct in your view or should I modify my practice method?
Practice only Ba Duan Jin for at least six months. Then practice Ba Duan Jin and Zhan Zhang on alternate days, not both on the same day.
After about three months, practice Zhan Zhang every day, interspersed with Ba Duan Jin once or twice a week.
He demonstrated something, a simple manipulation of my “Chi” force which have caused me to want more information on the subject. He had me hold my arms out parallel to the ground. Then he raised my Chi by motioning upward with his hand. After this he tried to push my arms down and wasn't able.
Then, he lowered my Chi with a downward hand motion and asked me to try to resist while he tried to push my arms down. Each time he repeated this process he wasn't able to move my arms much when my Chi was lifted but was able to push my arms all the way down to my side when he lowered my Chi. Why does this work?
— David, USA
This illustrates the principle of chi flow. When chi flows upward along your arms, induced by his upward moving hands, he could not lower your arms, but when chi flows downward, he could lower them easily.
It also shows how powerful chi flow can be. With appropriate techniques and skills we can use this chi flow for martial arts or for healing.
And how can I learn more about this interesting “force?” I believe that there are many things which God has not revealed to us about our bodies and creation and just as the workings of our internal organs have been a mystery for centuries -- which has slowly been revealed through science -- so I imagine this force could be something that is a legitmate part of us which most of us have not discovered and made use of.
You are right about our still not knowing many of God's wonders and creations. Concerning chi or energy, while the West have not discovered much, the Chinese have discovered a lot, and have employed it effectively for promoting health, vitality, combat efficiency, mental freshness and spiritual fulfilment.
Chi kung is the art and science of this energy management. The best way to learn and benefit from this interesting force is to study and practice chi kung from a genuine master.
According to your information, Master Yik Kam's lineage is Yik Kam —> Cho Tak Seng —> Cho Chun —> Cho Onn —> Cho Hoong Choy. However, in my research of Penang Wing Chun, I was told that Yik Kam's lineage is Yik Kam —> Cho Shun —> Cho Tak Seng —> Cho Mun (Cho Chin?) —> Cho Onn —> Cho Hoong Choy. Could you kindly clarify?
— Yao, Malaysia
You are probably right. My master, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, told me the lineage orally about 30 years ago. I mentioned the lineage in my unpublished manuscript on Wing Choon Kungfu written many years ago, but I did not have the time to check it. When I mentioned the lineage in my question-answer series it was culled from memory. Your mentioning above strikes a bell in me; Cho Shun sounds familiar. Thank you for reminding me. I probably made a mistake leaving him out at the right place in the lineage you mentioned.
Moreover, you are again probably right to note the first patriarch in this lineage was Yik Kam, and not Yip Kam as mentioned in my question-answer series. Thank you. Cho Chin in your mentioned lineage was probably Choe Chun, also known as Choe Tak Chun. I am quite sure of Sifu Choe Chun, because my master, after learning from Sifu Choe Onn, went to China to further his studies of Wing Chun Kungfu under Sifu Choe Chun.
Would you say that Yik Kam was also the same person known as Dai Fa Min Kam (Painted Face Kam)? I have come across accounts from other Wing Chun families which state that Dai Fa Min Kam (assuming it is the same person) learned from Leong Bok Lao (i.e. Yim Wing Chun's husband).
However since Yim Wing Chun was most likely a figure in legend only, chances are that Painted Face Kam learned from Cheung Ng who founded the red boat opera. Your alternative account of whom Painted Face Kam learned from, will be most interesting. Could you please comment?
I am not sure whether Yik Kam could be Dai Fa Min Kam, but I think they might be different persons because of the following three reasons. The Chinese character for “Kam” in Yik Kam refers to “gold”, but that in Dai Fa Min Kam refers to “magnificient”. Secondly, my sifu told me that Yik Kam was a famous Choy-Li-Fatt master in the town where a “red junk” which transported a Chinese opera, anchored, which means Yik Kam did not live on the “red junk”.
Thirdly Dai Fa Min Kam, who lived on the “red junk” learned the Shaolin staff from the Venerable Chi Sin, and this would place him about three generations above Yik Kam. The Venerable Chi Sin took refuge on the “red junk” to escape pursue from the Qing army who had earlier burned the southern Shaolin Monastery. To thank him for his hospitality, Chi Sin taught Dai Fa Min Kam some Shaolin staff techniques. Due to the limited space on the boat, Chi Sin modified the Shaolin staff techniques, which later became the famous Six-and-a-Half-Point Staff set
My account is that Dai Fa Min Kam later taught this staff set to Leong Pok Khow who was Yim Wing Chun's husband — and not learned from him. This was how this famous Six-and-a-Half-Point Staff became part of the Wing Chun Kungfu repertoire. I think my account is more likely to be correct for the following two reasons: Dai Fa Min Kam was one hierarchy more senior than Leong Pok Khow; and as Yim Wing Chun was a woman, it was unlikely she was taught this long-staff set by Ng Mooi Si Tai, who herself was not known to be good at this set.
I think Yim Wing Chun was a real person, and she was a disciple of Ng Mooi Si Tai, the famous Shaolin nun. It was unlikely that the famous nun would teach Leong Pok Khow, Yim Wing Chun's husband. Ng Mooi Si Tai was also very fond of Fong Sai Yook, a disciple of Chi Sin, who in turn was Ng Mooi's junior classmate. Ng Mooi taught Fong Sai Yook the finer points of Shaolin Kungfu which later made him a great kungfu fighter, but she never accepted him as her disciple. I think the main reason was because Fong Sai Yook was a young man, and not a woman like Yim Wing Chun.
Sifu Wong, could you kindly confirm that the following sets comprise the syllabus in Cho Wing Chun?
- Ma po set (footwork set)
- Kay Poon Kuen (the beginner set)
- Wingchun salutation (opening and close)
- Siu lin tao (short version)
- Siu lin tao (long version)
- Chit (intercept) Kuen
- Sui Ta (miscellanous striking)
- Chui Ta (chase and hit)
- Choy li fut (long form developed in Cho family)
- Fa kuen
- Fu Hok Sseung Ying (Wing Chun style)
- Jin Jeung (arrow palm)
- Cui Pat Sin (drunken form)
- Jin Chui (arrow punch)
- Fuk Fu Jarng (subdue tiger elbows)
- Sam Juen Jeung (3 turning palms)
- Tit Sin Kuen (iron wire fist)
- Bagua Rum (eight trigram centre)
- Wing Chun Kuen (everlasting spring boxing)
- Wooden dummy form
- Chi Sao Loong (two men fighting form)
- Six Point Half Pole Set
- Chai Mei Gwun (double head pole)
- Single Sword
- Yan Ji Dao (double butterfly knives)
- Dai Pah (trident)
- Kuan Do
- Spear forms
- Two Men Weapons form
Yes, the above comprises the syallabus in Choe Family Wing Chun. Congratulations for your research. You know more than I do. I am not sure about Bagua Sum.
Could you kindly tell me something more of your Fa Kuen -- its origin (from red boat or Yik Kam?); arrangement of set, major theme, techniques etc?
My Wing Chun Fa Kuen or Ever Spring Flower Fist is reputed to be one of Ng Mooi Si Tai's favourite kungfu sets. It was taught to both Wing Yim Chun and Fong Sai Yook. Probably Yim Wing Chun developed her Wing Chun Kungfu from this Fa Kuen. The “Wing Chun” in Wing Chun Fa Kuen refers to “Ever Spring”, and not “Poetic Spring” as in the “Wing Chun” of Yim Wing Chun.
There are about 64 patterns in the set, and many of the patterns are repeated on the left and the right side. The patterns are arranged in sequences mainly for combat. Although it is one of my favourite sets, I have forgotten how to perform it as a set. This was due to the following two factors. I learned this set in a very short time — in a few sessions — which did not allow sufficient time for the set to “sink in”.
This was mainly because although I have always regarded Sifu Choe Hoong Choy as my sifu, he in his typical modesty regarded me as being of the same hierarchy as he was. I called him Choy Kor, or Brother Choy, and not “sifu” as his other students addressed him. Hence, in kungfu terms, he “released” the Flower Fist to me, and not taught me as he would to his other students.
Secondly my primary interest in the Flower Fist lied in its principles or themes, as well as knowing how its skills and techniques accomplished the themes. I was not interested in performing it as a demonstrative set. Nevertheless I wrote down the names of the patterns in a book; and I should be able to put the patterns together again into a set when needed.
The famous themes of Flower Fist are confusing the opponent and speed. The movements of a Flower Fist expert are such that an opponent is often confused, and the attack can be so fast that he may not know from where it comes. These can be achieved through skills, techniques, tactics or strategies.
Circling Hands, or chi sau loong, is a useful art to develop the skill to be fast as well as confusing to the opponent. When your arms are in contact with your opponent's arms, you can sense and often predict the opponent's intention and movement. As soon as he wants to attack, you can foil him with just a small circular movement, and when his attack has not even been spent, you strike him from close quarters. This is an example of using skill and techniques to accomplish speed and confusing your opponent.
In employing tactics, you may confuse your opponent as follows. Attack him with a right palm reverse-chop at his neck. As soon as he blocks your reverse-chop, you “thread” away his defending hand and strike him again with the same right palm reverse-chop. Your chance of hitting him is high because your second right palm reverse-chop is already close to your opponent, and is executed at a time when he thinks he has just defended your first reverse-chop.
A skilful opponent may be able to ward off or avoid this speedy strike, and counter strike you at your ribs, which have been purposely left unguarded to trap him. Slightly shift your body backward, brush away his attack with your right cirular hand and simultaneously strike his throat with your left reverse-palm from close quarters. Complete the coup-de-grace with your right palm strike to his ribs, again from close quarters. Confusing the opponent and speedy moves constitute the basic strategy in Wing Chun Flower Fist.
It is worthy to add that the basic stances used in the Flower Fist are horse-riding, bow-and-arrow, and false-leg, which are typical Shaolin Kungfu stances, and not the goat-stance and the four-six stance, which are typical of Yip Man's style of Wing Chun.
Would you say that Cho Wing Chun also has elements of Hung Kuen within as I have noticed the Hung Kuen one finger palm in one of the Wing Chun forms and also the circling tiger claw movement.
Yes, I would say that Choe Family Wing Chun resembles more of Hung Kuen or Hoong Ka Kungfu than it resembles Yip Man's style of Wing Chun. The famous Tiger and Crane Set of Hoong Ka Kungfu is also found in Choe Family Wing Chun, but although the name is the same, the themes and patterns are different. While the Hoong Ka set emphasizes the tiger, Choe Family Wing Chun emphasizes the crane.