Wong Chun Yian

Wong Chun Yian, Sifu Wong's youngest son, performing a Shaolin form called "Dark Dragon Enters a Well"

The following discussion is reproduced from the thread What is a Martial Art? in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum on 20th February 2005.


Einstein's simple, direct and effective formula. I'm sure you've heard of it, but do you know what it means? What does the e; the m and the c2 stand for? I'll wager very few of us really know.

The same can be said of Shaolin Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan (T.C.C.). I'm certain you've heard of them, but do you really know what they are and why they are outstanding systems for developing

Due to media distortion and some good intentioned but misguided instructors I doubt it. As a student of Shaolin Kung Fu I wish to address this issue and to clarify for the public what real, genuine, traditional Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan is. So that they can tell the difference and make an educated choice should they wish to pursue these Arts.

The qualities mentioned previously (self defence, perseverance, tolerance, discipline, vibrant health and general well being) can only be developed if Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan are practiced as Martial Arts and not martial “dance” or martial “sport”.

Here is my formula for what makes a “complete” Martial Art:

Martial Art = Form + Force + Application + Philosophy

combat application

Combat application is an essential aspect of genuine kungfu.


External movements made with the body.

It is the most obvious aspect when people think of Kung Fu or Tai Chi Chuan. Many instructors and students think that by practicing forms or patterns, they will be able to defend themselves, as we will see this is not true.

My experience is that the majority of schools today place an over emphasis on this component. In these schools, if you took out the form training component you'd be left with a program of stretching and playground style kicking and punching commonly referred to as “sparring”.

Force (or skill)

There is a saying that goes something like this:

“If you learn Kung Fu or Tai Chi Chuan forms but never develop force then your Kung Fu or Tai Chi Chuan will be futile, even if you study for the rest of your life”.

Force or skill refers to a student's ability and efficiency in using technique. It is formless, invisible and involves accuracy, power and speed. Shaolin Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan are rich in methods to develop Force (skill & techniques) but further discussion of actual techniques is outside the scope of this article.


Shaolin Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan become meaningless as Martial Arts if they are devoid of their fighting function. You must be able to fight using the forms you learn. It is outrageous the number of schools that teach Kung Fu form and then fight using kick boxing or other fighting systems. This is especially true for Tai Chi Chuan; if you want the benefits you must train it as a Martial Art and not a gentle dance.

Free sparring is meant to test your skills, techniques and fighting ability. Free sparring does not teach you these skills. There are many stages before free sparring is even considered. This again is in stark contrast to most schools, where once form practice is over, the gloves go on and it's every person for themselves. Many long-term injuries are sustained in this way.

Remember, one of the main aims of a Martial Art is to stop you from getting hit. Being hit on a regular basis is seriously hazardous to your health and well-being.

When I first began my martial arts training I went from being “beaten up” once in my life time to being beaten up twice a week! The worst thing was I thought that this meant I was no good and I eventually gave up on martial arts all together. After a few years “sabbatical” I had the good fortune to discover the Shaolin Wahnam Institutes website (www.shaolin.org) a school that teaches fighting application in a logical and structured manner using genuine kung fu forms.

golden bell

Force training is another essential aspect of genuine kungfu. Here Sifu Mark Appleford chops Sifu Wong Chun Nga to test his Golden Bell, which is a special kind of internal force training in Shaolin Kungfu.


It is worthwhile to note that the main purpose of Bodhidharma and Chang San Feng, the first Patriarchs of Shaolin Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan respectively, was spiritual development, irrespective of the student's religious conviction or lack of it.

Students of Shaolin Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan inherit an incredible wealth of knowledge and wisdom which not only applies to the Art but also to one's effectiveness in every day life. A Martial Art must complement and enhance your life, not take it over at the expense of your family and friends.

These 4 components are the methods used by students and instructors of the Shaolin Wahnam Institute. They have given us the benefits listed earlier in this article and those benefits described by the masters who developed and perfected these arts.

In brief practicing a Martial Art is an outstanding system for taking your health and complete well being to a level you may never have dreamed possible. It must be an effective form of self-defence, not just against physical attacks but also from illness and depression. Its emphasis is on working and developing what is already there and not aggression or domination. Over time it must complement your life and make you better at everything you do.

kungfu philosophy

Kungfu philosophy can be rewardingly applied in our daily life. Here Sifu Wong explains that in kungfu as well as in our daily lives, retreating a step when faced with an apparently hopeless situation often enables us not only to get out of the difficult situation effectively but also to see possible solutions to the problem.

Please don't take my word for it, come along to a class taught by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit or a Shaolin Wahnam Instructor and experience the benefits of genuine Shaolin Arts for yourself.

Marcus Santer
Shaolin Wahnam Institute - UK


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