CHAPTER 17: INTRODUCTION TO SHAOLIN QIGONG
Grandmaster Wong demonstrated a Shaolin pattern
(This chapter is selected from Venerable De Xiang, (orally transmitted from old classics), Venerable De Xu, Venerable De Yian, De Shu (editors) Shaolin Qigong, Henan Publication, 1985, published in Chinese)
Qigong is a legacy of the ancient people to maintain health and nourish life in their production and daily life. It is a treasure of the Chinese civilization, and has special features in the overcoming of illness, promotion of health, strengthening the body, and enhancing vitality and longevity.
Shaolin qigong developed from the foundation of healing qigong that employed inner quiescence and outer movement into a special art, practiced by Shaolin monks throughout the ages, and spread to the public to become a special flower of Shaolin Kungfu.
Centuries of experience have confirmed that regardless of whether it is an external art or an internal art, its principles are to harmonise the spirit and body of man, enable his functions to be normal, balance yin and yang, generate meridian flow, regulate energy and blood, enable zhong qi, wai qi and yuan qi to be plentiful
(Editorial Note: “Zhong qi” means “vital energy” and is found in the triple-warmer, i.e. the upper warmer or the chest cavity, the middle warmer or the stomach cavity, and the lower warmer or the abdomen cavity. “Wai qi” means “protection energy”, and flows outside blood vessels all over the body. “Yuan qi” means “original energy”, and is the energy derived from one’s father and mother, as well as nutrients from the mother while the foetus was in the mother’s womb.)
Naturally the body becomes agile and strong, the spirit becomes alive and radiant. Thus, Shaolin qigong lengthens years and benefits longevity, as well as prevents or overcomes illness, especially chronic diseases, like high blood pressure, heart disorders, diabetes, chronic stomach problems, hardening of the liver, eye diseases, nervous problems, weakening of the nervous system, memory and brain problems.
Shaolin qigong can be classified into “nei gong” and “wai gong”, or internal art and external art. Internal art focuses on sitting Chan to cultivate the heart and nature. It has obvious evidence in preventing or overcoming chronic illness, like heart disorders, mental breakdown and memory problems.
(Editorial Note: “Chan” is the Chinese word for Zen. Sitting Chan is sitting Zen, or Zen meditation in Western culture. Zen meditation does not involve any meditating or thinking. It is clearing the mind of all thoughts. What is called “mind” in English is called “heart” in Chinese, and it includes the spiritual, mental and emotional aspects of a person. “Nature” here refers to “Original Nature”, or what is called “God the Holly Spirit” in Western culture, or “the universal and undifferentiated spread of consciousness or energy” in scientific terms. Preventing and overcoming chronic illness is a bonus in Zen meditation. The aim is spiritual cultivation.)
External art is mainly used in kungfu, or Chinese martial art, channelling vital energy, protection energy and original energy to actions. It is mentioned in kungfu classics that “Before hands and legs move, energy arrives. Blood acts for energy to give force and majesty.”
(Editorial Note: Many people conceptualize that an external art is only external and there is nothing internal about it. This is because they fail to realize that qigong and kungfu terms are for convenience, not definitive like scientific terms. The external art mentioned here, as it is part of qigong, is also internal. In other words, qigong is an internal art. But qigong itself may be classified again into internal and external. The fundamental principle is that all things in the world can be classified into yin and yang. In things that are generally regarded as yin, there are also yin and yang. For example, night is considered yin, in comparison with day. But at night, where there are lights it is considered yang, in comparison with places where there are no lights.)
Sitting Position: Sitting Upright, Single Lotus, Double Lotus, Planting-Flower Poise. Standing Position: Three-Circle Stance, Three-Harmony Stance, Taming-Tiger Stance, Praying Mantis Stance. Lying Down Position.
Four-Limb Art: Swaying Willows, Vajra Fist, One-Finger Gold, Heart-Intention Poise.
Art of Lightness: Feather-Leg, Running-Up-a-Room, Flying–Over-Poles.
Hard Art: One-Finger-against-Wall, Brick-Breaking-Palm, Stone-Breaking-Fist, Stone-Breaking Head.
There is also stance training, like Tai-Mountain Stance, Bow-Stance.
(Editorial Note: These are only some examples of internal art and external art of Shaolin Kungfu. Shaolin Kungfu is extremely rich in the arts of force training which includes qigong. Some famous examples, like the internal art of Sinew Metamorphosis, and the external art of Eighteen Lohan Hands, as well as well-known stance training methods like the Horse-Riding Stance and Golden Bridge are not mentioned here.)
A main feature of Shaolin qigong that is different from other types of qigong is “In quiescence generates movement. From movement is born force”. This feature is special in the training and application of Shaolin external art, and is much praised by people.
(Editorial Note: This feature, however, is not unique to Shaolin qigong. The feature of “In quiescence there is movement, in movement there is quiescence” is found in all qigong. The “movement” in other types of qigong also generates “force”. In the quiescent qigong of the Art of Internal Nourishment, and the mobile qigong of Five-Animal Play, for example, quiescence generates movement, which in turn generates internal force which overcomes illness and promotes good health, vitality and longevity. But the internal force derived from other types of qigong is less powerful than that in Shaolin Kungfu.)
Special Features of Training
While training the internal art of Shaolin qigong, not only it is necessary to attain tranquillity, it is also necessary to attain mobility. Thus, its training techniques are more than those of other qigong types, and their difficulty is also bigger. Like in the double lotus position, it is unlikely to be successful for those who train for less than a year.
Because there are many training techniques, those who are old or young, strong or weak, male or female, can select a training method that is suitable for their liking and conditions.
Special Features in Application
In the external art of Shaolin qigong, generally it is first quiescence, then movement. Energy is focused at the dan tian, the energy is suddenly gathered and suddenly manifested. It is important to focus on intention leading energy, energy and force united, using energy to strengthen force, and using force to lead energy.
When using energy, it is not only to use energy according to intention, explode energy to all the four limbs, going through all bones and joints, but also that after performance, the exponent feels light and fresh, with the vitality to jump about, to climb cliffs and to cross steams.
Formula of Sets
Shao Shi long lamps illuminate four seasons
Zen shadow with lamps depends on real energy
Grain liquid can only nourish fresh and muscles
Only energy manifests in health and force
To be successful there are three requirements
One silence two relaxation three gracefully gentle
Silence means there is only one in the heart
Myriad things like rocks sink to the sea
Relaxing means to let go like flowing sand
Blood follows energy harmoniously flows
Breathing be deep and long, graceful and gentle
Long and short in contrast no minute difference
(Editorial Note: The Shaolin Monastery was built on the Shao Shi range of the Song Mountain in Henan Province of China. The Shaolin Monastery was dedicated to the promotion of Chan, or Zen. It was “real energy” that sustained the success of Chan.)
(Editorial Note: Food and drinks are figuratively called “grain” and “liquids”. Food and drinks can only nourish the physical body. Good health and internal force come from qi, or energy.)
(Editorial Note: There are three requirements for success in qigong training. These three requirements are to enter silence, to be totally relaxed, and to be gentle in the training. Any exertion of muscular strength, like in physical exercise, will stop the energy flow, thus hindering successful qigong training.)
(Editorial Note: To enter silence, practitioners must clear their heart, which means mind, of all thoughts. All thoughts are eliminated, like myriad things sinking as rocks into the sea.)
(Editorial Note: To be relaxed means to let go. Do not abide at anything. All stress and tension flow away like flowing sand. When the mind and the body are relaxed, energy can flow smoothly. Blood follows the energy flow.)
(Editorial Note: The breathing must be deep and long, graceful and gentle. If the breathing is shallow, short, staccato or rough, there will be no success in the training. The difference is great, not minute.)
Masters of Shaolin monks have accumulated rich experiences over a thousand years of study and research. Shaolin qigong combines combat with energy, and energy with combat. Combat and energy are used mutually, and are different from other schools.
There are five basic principles in elementary training, namely silence, relaxation, gentleness, persistence, and practice.
When practicing qigong, the mind must be focused. An ancient poem advised that, “Don’t look at pretty fairies walking in front, Don’t think of playing with dragons outside the door, Don’t worry about metal knife striking the head, Be like a person walking alone on a mountain.”
Generally speaking, a practitioner must eliminate all irrelevant thoughts. Only then can his mind be focused, and he can maintain silence.
The technique is to focus the intention at the dan tian. This is because dan tian is the chamber where men’s sperm is located, where women’s womb is located, where energy is located as the sea of energy.
(Editorial Note: “Dan tian” means “energy field”. It is located about 2 or 3 inches below the navel.)
It is mentioned in ancient books that “Dan tian is the sea of energy. It can eliminate hundreds of diseases.” Hence, focusing intention at the dan tian is a fundamental formula and principle. It is mentioned in kungfu literature that “Tongue down upper palate breath real energy, Energy at dan tian manifests majesty.”
(Editorial Note: In the Small Universe, which is an advanced qigong art, energy flows continuously round the body along the conceptual and the governing meridians. There are two gaps at these two important meridians, a lower gap at the anus, and an upper gap at the mouth. To bridge these two gaps, the anus is lifted when energy flows from the conceptual meridian to the governing meridian, and the tongue is lifted up to touch the palate and then lowered down at the base of the mouth, when energy flows from the governing meridian to the conceptual meridian. The Small Universe is much valued by martial artists. It gives them tremendous force and stamina.)
There are two requirements in qigong training. One is to focus intention at dan tian. The other is to touch the tip of the tongue at the palate. Breathe in energy with intention, which issues from the heart (which means mind). In this way, “vital energy”, “protection energy” and “original energy” are prevented from leaking away.
The Inner Classic said, “Energy is the master of blood, blood is the mother of energy.” When energy is smooth, blood flows well. When blood is plentiful, energy is strong.” Manifesting energy is manifesting force. When energy arrives, force arrives.
For beginners, the techniques described above are easy to perform but difficult to practice. The main problem is that right at the beginning of training, beginners cannot enter silence. They cannot focus their mind.
But past masters have left us invaluable advice. One way is to count. Count from 1 to 10,000. By practicing counting, eventually one can develop focus. Another way is to count the breath. Count from 1 to 100, or 1,000 or even 10,000. Again, eventually the ability to focus will be developed. People in the past said, “Silence comes from purity of thought.” When thought is focused, silence will arrive.
All the muscles in the body must be relaxed. It is said in kungfu classics that “When one is relaxed, energy can arrive easily. Only when energy is plentiful, is manifestation complete.” In martial art training and in combat, an exponent must be able to meet various types of attack from opponents. Sometimes opponents attack with fists, sometimes with kicks. The exponent requires harmonizing energy. It may be energy flowing from top to bottom, or bottom to top, from left to right, or from right to left.
This process is called “change of energy flow”. Before changing energy flow, the exponent must “loosen energy”. Without loosening energy, it is difficult to move energy. Only when energy is loosened, can the exponent let energy through, let energy be smooth, or change energy flow. This is a function of loosening energy, or being relaxed, in qigong training.
In qigong training, it is necessary to let the breathing be deep, long and gentle. It is mentioned in kungfu classics that “Below arrives at the soles, on top arrives at kun lun”.
(Editorial Note: “Kun lun” refers to the “kun lun” energy point located at the top of the head. “Kun lun” is a classical term, a modern term is “bai hui”. “Kun lun” is the name of a high mountain in West China. “Bai hui” means meeting of hundreds of meridians.)
When breathing out, breathe out completely. When breathing in, breathe in completely. The breath must be gentle and rhythmic, not fast and rough. The breathing must not be sometimes gentle and long, but other times fast and short. It must be constantly gentle and long.
It must be remembered that the breathing must not be long when breathing in, and short when breathing out, nor long when breathing out, and short when breathing in.
In qigong training, it is important to be persistent. Regardless of whether it is cold to the bones, or hot like fire, regardless of illness attacking the body, or environment problems, the practitioner must train seriously and enduringly, and forever be persistent. Four seasons of the year like one season, many decades like one day, so long as life goes on, training does not stop. Training is persistent. It must not be “one hot ten cold”.
(Editorial Note: “One hot ten cold” is a popular reminder in qigong and kungfu training. Students are frequently reminded not to train in “one hot ten cold”, which means train for a day and stop for ten days, or train for a while and stop for some time.)
There are three times of practice. Practice in the morning. Practice in the afternoon. Practice at night. One day three times of practice. It is said in kungfu classics, “Morning training eliminates stale energy and take in fresh energy. Afternoon training replenishes the spirit. Night training circulates energy and sharpens essence. Flicking a finger into wood is easy like laying a mat.”
Morning Training: A day of movement and the waste products from metabolism, after a night of sleeping, are accumulated. Practicing qigong in the morning can firstly loosen bones and joints as well as eliminate stale energy, and secondly breathe out the stale and breathe in the new, and harmonize internal organs and uplift the spirit.
Afternoon Training: After the morning’s work the body may experience reverse energy flow, lose quietness and become tired. Afternoon training can harmonize energy at energy points, restore quietness and activate energy. But afternoon training must not be long. About 10 to 15 minutes of training is sufficient.
Night training: At this time there are stars in the sky, and the night is quiet. It is a good time for training. People in the past said, ”Morning is new. Afternoon is accumulating. Night is storing. It is a time to return.”
Thus, in the morning, practitioners can breathe out the stale and breathe in the fresh. In the afternoon, they can harmonize the way to be smooth, and restore what has been lost. At night, when thoughts are pure, heart is focused, energy can be easily manifested.
Important Principles in Training
According to personal needs, first choose a suitable pattern, then practice qigong techniques of placing the tongue at the palate, closing the mouth, breathing with the nose, and focusing at the dan tian.
Adopting silence as the crucial point from beginning to end, sitting or standing, the body must be upright, the muscles relaxed, and quiet like sleeping.
Use intention to lead energy. When thought arrives, energy arrives. Thoughts must not be confused. Energy must not flow backward.
Start at the beginning and complete at the end. Do not stop half-way. Do not abandon during the training.
Every day coming out of bed, loosen the muscles and circulate energy. Breathe in and out three times. Breathe out the stale, and breathe in the fresh.
First be still, then circulate energy flow. Let the energy sink to the dan tian. Suddenly collect, suddenly manifest.
(Editorial Note: “Suddenly collect, suddenly manifest” means suddenly collect energy at the dan tian by gently thinking of the dan tian, then suddenly manifest the energy at other parts of the body, like at the hand by performing an appropriate action, like punching out a fist in a proper pattern.)
Energy harmonizes with force. Force harmonizes with heart. Heart harmonizes with intention.
(Editorial Note: This is sometimes known as the three internal harmonies, i.e. the harmonies of energy, force and heart (which includes intention). When your heart intends to make a punch, for example, energy flows and force arrives. All the three elements of intention, energy and force arrive at the same time. The three internal harmonies may also refer to the harmony of essence, energy and spirit. When you make a movement, for example, the movement is elegant, charged with energy which results in internal force, and you radiate an invisible, forceful; spirit.)
Use intention to lead energy. Use your eyes to look at the target. Energy will generate movement. Movement will generate energy flow. Energy flow will manifest internal force. Internal force will arrive at the target.
(Editorial Note: At very advanced level, a master may not need to look at the target. His mind can sense the target without looking with his eyes. Such an advanced skill is used in “dim mark”, for example. “Dim mark” is an advanced art where a master can disable an opponent by dotting at the opponent’s energy point. The opponent is moving in action, and the master may not look at the energy point, yet he can dot it.)
In the training of external art, it is important to progress systematically form shallow to deep, from simple to sophisticated, from easy to difficult. The progress must be gradual. One must not be hasty.
Practitioners of the external art of Shaolin qigong must remember the key elements of “endurance and persistence”. Without endurance, no Shaolin Kungfu can be accomplished. Without persistence, no Shaolin arts can be attained. Just endurance but without persistence, practitioners may give up half-way.
Practitioners must know the methods of training. Master Su Xi said, “Good teachers produce accomplished students.” Just endurance and persistence, but without knowing the methods, students may go astray. They may have put in “the strength of nine buffalos and two tigers” but fail to be accomplished in their training.
(Editorial Note: “The strength of nine buffalos and two tigers” mean tremendous effort.)
So, to be accomplished in the genuine arts, it is essential to learn from genuine masters. Practice enduringly and persistently, be humble in learning, apply the strong points of other schools to supplement our weaknesses, persist and persist, nothing cannot be accomplished.
An old photo showing Uncle Righteousness, who was Grandmaster Wong's first kungfu teacher, sparring with Grandmaster Wong