Creating the right mental frame for the best learning.
An old photograph showing Sifu Wong (in his teens) performing a Hoong Ka kungfu set with his master, Sifu Lai Chin Wah, popularly known as Uncle Righteousness (middle behind in white T-shirt), looking on.
An art is best learnt in its culture. One remarkable difference between the culture of the East and the West is the respect shown to a master. In this connection I have little complaint because my students, from both the East and the West, generally show much respect to me. But I have met many Eastern masters commenting on the lack of respect, sometimes utter disrespect, shown to them.
Often it is because of the Western students’ ignorance of Eastern ways rather than their wilful discourtesy that their Eastern masters of chi kung or kungfu (including taijiquan) regard as disrespect. The following are some simple and helpful points both Eastern and Western students may follow to show the respect deservedly due to their masters.
ADDRESSING THE MASTER CORRECTLY
Sifu Wong (in his 40’s) with his master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, the third generation successor from the Shaolin Monastery
First of all you must know how to address your master correctly, something which many Western students are ignorant of. Never, never, never call your master by his name, especially if he comes from a Eastern culture. In some Western societies it may be considered personal and desirable to call your senior or even your boss by his first name, but in chi kung or kungfu culture it is considered extremely rude.
It is worthwhile to remember that your master is not your peer or equal. Your master is at least one, but usually many levels above you, otherwise he cannot and should not be your master. The proper way to address your chi kung or kungfu master is “Sifu”, which is the Cantonese dialect of the Chinese language for “Master”. The Mandarin pronunciation is “Shifu”.
Actually if a great master answers you when you call him “Sifu”, you are, not he is, honoured; it shows he accepts you as a student. I always felt greatly honoured whenever I called my masters Lai Chin Wah and Ho Fatt Nam “Sifu”, because they were two of the greatest masters I had found.
If your master’s surname is Chen, you should call him “Sifu”, or “Master” if you want to sound Western, but strictly speaking not “Sifu Chen” or “Master Chen” for that is the address the public, not his students, would call him. If you call him “Sifu Chen” or “Master Chen” you are distancing yourself from him.
Besides showing propriety in your address, you should also show propriety in your behaviour. Do not, for example, put your hand around him, pat him on his shoulder, or hug him — leave that to his wife, which following Eastern social etiquette is also only done in private.
When you stand or sit in front of or near him, hold yourself upright. You need not stand at attention like a private in front of his sergeant major, but you should not stand sloppily, with arms akimbo or hands in your pockets. When you sit do not cross your legs with a foot pointing at him, or expose your groins to him even though they are hidden by your pants.
It is only sensible that you should listen when your master speaks, especially if he is explaining some points. Yet, it is not uncommon to find some adult students (male as well as female) lying on the floor, sometimes with their hands folded at the back of their head, their eyes close and their legs open in an inviting position! This shows not so much a disrespect to the master, but an utter lack of good manners on the part of the students.
ENTERING AND LEAVING A CLASS
It is also bad manners to arrive at your class late. In the past in the East, late students would be asked to go home, or to leave permanently if they were late habitually. The logic is simple: the master has something invaluable to offer; if you come late you tacitly show that you do not value his teaching. But if there is a valid reason for your being late, you should first greet him from the door, walk quietly but briskly to him, respectfully wait if he is pre-occupied, then explain your reason and apologize.
On the other hand, you should wait patiently if the master is late — even for hours! If you think this is unfair, you are probably not ripe for great arts. There are stories of great masters who purposely arrived late, not for hours but for days, and then passed on their secrets to the few wise, patient students. Although it seldom happens nowadays, it will reflect a splendid grasp of chi kung and kungfu culture if you and your classmates stop whatever you are doing, stand up respectfully, bow and greet your master as he comes in.
Do not leave your class half-way. But if you have to leave early for some reason, explain that to your master before-hand and politely ask his permission. At the appointed time, ask his permission again, then bow and thank him before leaving. At the end of a class, the students should leave after the master, not before he does. However, if the master stays back for a considerable length of time, such as explaining some points to some students who stay behind to ask him, other students may leave first, after bowing to the master.
In the East, it is customary for the teacher to arrive last and leave first. Interestingly, it is often the reverse in the West. The teacher, Western in culture if not in race, often arrives the earliest, sweeps the floor and prepares cookies and drinks which he will serve during recess to his students, who will joke and laugh. At the end of the class, the teacher will stand at the door, shake the students’ hands and thank them for their attendance. He will then throw away the garbage his students have left behind if he still has energy left, and check that everyone has gone home before he closes the door.
OFFERING A CUP OF TEA
In Eastern culture it is always the students who offer drinks to the teacher. When you offer your master a cup of tea, it is preferable to do so with two hands. In Eastern societies, accepting a cup of tea and drinking it has deeper significance than merely quenching thirst.
In the past, even if someone had done you great wrong, if he or she offered you a cup of tea, usually while kneeling down and then knocking his or her head on the ground, and you, sitting down in front of other witnesses, accepted and drank it, it meant that you accepted his or her apology, were ready to forgive all the wrong, and would not take any action whatsoever in future.
The students should also offer a seat to the master, and the seat chosen is usually the best one available. If the master is not seated, the students should remain standing, unless the master asks them to sit down. If they dine together, the students would wait until the master has made his first move to eat or drink.
DON’T BE INSULTING
When your master is explaining or demonstrating something to you, listen attentively and respectfully. Do not bluntly say you already know what he is teaching, even if you really know. In chi kung and kungfu culture, doing so is not being straight-forward, it is being insulting — you are implying that the master does not know what he is doing.
I recall some occasions when my masters taught me something that I already had learnt quite well. Thanks to my training in Eastern culture, I followed their instructions faithfully although they appeared very simple and below my level then. Only much later did I realize that had I not follow these apparently simple instructions I would not have acquired the foundation necessary for advanced development.
Do not ever make the fatal mistake of telling a master what or how to teach you. This is not only unbecoming, it is also very foolish, for you will be denying yourself the very purpose why you need him. If he is a master, he knows best what and how to help you attain your best results; he is able to see your needs and development in ways far beyond your limited perspective.
FOR THE STUDENTS’ INTEREST
Some westerners may find the above-described master-student relationship odd, just as those accustomed to Eastern culture would find the behaviour of some western students unbelievable. It may be more surprising, especially for those who think they are doing the master a favour by paying him a fee to learn, to know that all these customs of respect for the master are actually for the students’, not the master’s, interest.
Someone who teaches kungfu dance or gentle exercise for a living will probably care more for your fees than your respect, but a master whose art gives you good health, vitality, mental freshness and spiritual joy actually does not care whether you respect him more or your dog. But those students who have experienced the wonderful benefits of genuine kungfu and chi kung will understand that the respect given to the master is not only a sincere token of appreciation to the master for sharing his art, but also constitutes an ideal psychological state for the training to take place.
I guide myself through Tai Chi Chuan practise. This time it is not with the usual Chinese dialect, it’s a form of Japanese. It is a strong deep voice, not at all what one would expect from a soft Tai Chi Chuan master, but a deep fierce voice is guiding my forms and speaking through me.
This is either my own sub-consciousness or a master comes teach and merge with myself. Or I am tapping into the cosmos.
– Tim, Belgium
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
Tai Chi dancers are soft, but genuine Tai Chi Chuan masters are not soft, though they can be gentle.
But what is important is that you must be in control of yourself, not directed by a spirit, even when it is divine and has good intentions. This is very important.
It may not be a spirit but you own sub-consciousness. But for this purpose of regaining conscious control for yourself, you need not worry or intellectualize whether it is a spirit or your sub-consciousness, or something else. So, in the following description, I shall refer to a spirit. You follow the same procedure if it is actually your sub-consciousness or something else.
You should do the following for some time until you regain control. Suppose the spirit asks you to move forward with a powerful strike. Even if this is what you yourself intend to do, don’t do it. Gently thank the spirit but do something else, like moving to your left, without breaking the momentum of your chi flow, and execute a kick instead.
Repeat the procedure for some time until you are fully confident that you have complete conscious control of your own movements and intentions.
We must always be in full conscious control no matter what we are training in
I experienced this a lot of times before as I mentioned in previous emails, but this time I really become one with it. I believe I’m growing up in our arts and at my level now I can let it happen at will, going deep and just going with the flow guiding myself in our arts.
Becoming one with the Cosmos is growing in our arts. When you become one with the Cosmos, you are becoming yourself at the most supreme level where there is no differentiation at all.
Becoming one with another spirit is not growing in our arts. It is a serious deviation.
I may or may not be right in my presumption that you may become one with another spirit. But either way, i.e. irrespective of whether the force directing you is another spirit or is your own sub-consciousness, following my advice is for your benefit.
If it is a spirit, even a good one, you should not be directed by it and become its slave. You may listen to its advice if it is good, but you have a free choice to accept the advice or reject it.
If it is your sub-consciousness, you also should not be blindly directed by it. You should have your conscious control, based on wisdom and courage.
It is a big mistake if you think that you would lose a great opportunity if you do not follow a powerful spirit. Even without any guidance from any spirit, you can be very powerful by just practicing our arts.
In fact, you already have become powerful. Compare, for example, what you are now with what you were when you first attended a UK Summer Camp. You were such a weakling then that when you were chosen for demonstration, Robin was genuinely concerned that I could pull off your arm.
Why do we train internal force or gain benefits from our practice? It is not for their own sake but to enrich our lives and the lives of other people. We must not forget this, otherwise we may become a slave to our arts instead of becoming masters.
Attacks can come in countless ways, but to facilitate learning, masters have group them into four major categories, namely:
Sequences 1 to 8 deal with striking attacks. While Combat Sequences 1 to 4 use the left leg mode with “Black Tiger Steals Heart” as the leading pattern, Combat Sequences 5 to 8 use the right leg mode leading with “Fierce Tiger Speeds Through Valley”. And while Sequences 1 to 4 focus on developing skills, Sequences 5 to 8 focus on expanding techniques.
Numerous fundamental skills have been developed, and they include:
Flowing movement and force
Numerous tactics are also introduced, and they include:
First defence then counter
Defence cum counter
No defence direct counter
Alert the east attack the west
Feint moves and exposure
In order that you can develop the skills to using typical kungfu techniques spontaneously in combat, these combat sequences are practiced in progressive stages, as follows:
“Bar the Big Boss” was introduced in the previous combat sequence in place of “Single Tiger” against the opponent’s thrust punch. In this sequence we learn a new technique that develops from “Bar the Big Boss”. Instead of blocking the opponent’s arm, we can chop at it, using the pattern ”Attending Meeting with Single Knife”.
The opening attack “Fierce Tiger Speeds through Valley” in this sequence, as in the other sequences, is used as a feint move to tempt the opponent to counter-attack. That is why the left guard hand, which is normally held near the right shoulder in this pattern, is purposely left exposed.
As the opponent falls into our trap and counter-attacks, we can respond in numerous prepared ways, such as executing another “Fierce Tiger” in Sequence 5, “Dark Dragon” in Sequence 6, and “White Snake” in Sequence 7. In this sequence, we use “Single Knife” to fracture his attacking arm or dislocate his attacking elbow, followed immediately with “Horizontally Sweep a Thousand Armies” at his neck. Hence, if you are well trained, like having practiced selected techniques at least 50 times daily for a few months, you may defeat your opponent the moment he responds to your feint moves.
But if you opponent is well trained too, he can of course neutralize your rehearsed attacks. In this sequence, for example, he intercepts your “Horizontal Sweep” with a “Single Knife”, and irrespectively of whether you could shift your arm away in time, he follows immediately with a “Golden Leopard Speeds through Jungle” into your ribs.
As you strike his attacking arm with “False Leg Hand Sweep”, he “flows” over your attacking hand and swings a “Reverse Hanging of Lotus” on your right temple, guarding your right leg with his right leg. You may neutralize his “Hanging Lotus” with “Golden Dragon”. At this point, both you and your opponent have a good opportunity to continue combat. You may, for example, move forward with a “Black Tiger” or a “White Snake”, thus continuing with any of the Sequences 1 to 4. Later, when you have learned kicking techniques, you may continue with a right thrust kick or a left side kick.
Here is a quick review of what you have learnt. Combat Sequences 1 to 4 are meant to train fundamental combat skills like right timing, right spacing, flowing movements, safe coverage, foot adjustment, and instantaneous changes. The four fundamental hand attacks to the top, middle, bottom and sides, and their corresponding defences are used. The stances used are mainly in the left mode. These four sequences constitute the kungfu set “Black Tiger Steals Heart”.
Sequences 5 to 8, which constitutes the kungfu set “Fierce Tiger Speeds Through Valley” introduce the right leg mode as well as many hand techniques for attack and defence. Sequence 5 introduces the tactic of pressing attacks, where a skilful exponent may press an opponent against a wall almost irrespective of the latter’s defensive moves! Sequence 6 introduce the left palm strike, applying internal force. It also illustrates the progression from 3 movements to only I movement in apply the pattern “Dark Dragon Draws Water”.
Needless to say, all techniques, skills, tactics, principles and so on are trained progressively, not exclusively. In other words, although fundamental skills like right timing and right spacing are emphasized in Sequences 1 to 4, these skills are constantly improved in all other sequences. Although tactics like pressing attacks and “alert the east, attack the west” in Sequences 5 and 6, they can be used in any other sequences.
So far we use “Single Tiger Emerges from Cave” to defence against “Black Tiger Steals Heart”. In Sequences 1 to 4 the left “Single Tiger” is used, and in Sequences 5 and 6 the right “Single Tiger”. In this sequence, a new defence technique is used against the “Black Tiger”, namely “Bar the Big Boss“.
In this situation and if all other things were equal, “Bar the Big Boss” has a technical advantage over “Single Tiger Emerges from Cave”. In applying the “Single Tiger” you have to bring back your front right leg from the right Bow-Arrow Stance to change into the right False Leg Stance, and bring back your right hand from “Fierce Tiger Speeds through Valley” in a big arc to change into the “Single Tiger”. But in applying “Bar the Big Boss”, you merely need to shift from a Bow-Arrow Stance to a sideway Horse-Riding Stance, and change your horizontal arm to a vertical arm position, which is technically faster.
Then, why bother to learn “Single Tiger” when “Bar the Big Boss” is better? The answer is that other things are not equal. There are other situations where the “Single Tiger” is technically better than “Bar the Big Boss”. Even in this combat situation, there may be other factors which make “Single Tiger” a better choice. For example, we may not merely want to deflect the attacker’s punch, but use the tiger-claw in the “Single Tiger” to grip the attacker’s elbow or wrist.
Bar Big Boss
In the previous sequence, we learned the progression from 3 moves to just 1 move when applying “Dark Dragon Draws Water”, hence increasing our speed but without actually trying to be faster! This sequence also provides us with a good opportunity to learn and develop this skill of minimizing movements, as follows.
When you have become skilful in applying “Bar the Big Boss” followed by “White Snake Shoots Venom” as two separate patterns (with a short pause between the patterns), you can perform the two patterns continuously as if they were one pattern (i.e. without any pause between them). Gradually you will discover from your own experience that instead of first applying a vertical block as in “Bar the Big Boss”, then followed with a taming hand as part of “White Snake”, you can achieve the same effect by using a smooth curve of your right hand in one movement instead of two.
Then you will also discover that you do not even need to change from Bow-Arrow Stance to sideway Horse-Riding Stance. All you need to do is to swerve your body in a smooth curve as you apply “White Snake Shoots Venom”, even without the need to apply “Bar the Big Boss”. In other words, from the previous “Fierce Tiger Speeds through Valley”, you can proceed straight to “White Snake Shoots Venom”, thus reducing three patterns to two.
If you execute this “White Snake” well, not only you can be very fast — striking the opponent’s throat almost the same time he thinks he can hit you with his thrust punch — but you will also have “tamed” his hands in such a way that, apparently, he could not defence against your counter-attack. Yet, by withdrawing his front left leg a small step back into a front False Leg Stance, he could free his hands to counter your palm thrust with a “Golden Dragon”. This should reminds us that in real life, even when the situation appears hopeless, by taking a step back, one can often find a viable solution.
Your opponent counterattacks with a low punch. He must adjust his foot position before moving in with a low sideway Horse-Riding Stance, otherwise without you having to do anything he offers you a free advantage that you can exploit. You response to his low attack with a hand-sweep, breaking or dislocating his elbow or wrist.
As he moves his arm away to avoid your hand-sweep, you move in with a palm chop using the pattern “Chop the Hua Mountain”. Remember to cover yourself as you move in, otherwise he may jab his right palm into your ribs or abdomen.
You may notice that this is a progression or developmental lesson from “Precious Duck”. Previously, you learned that if your opponent struck your low punch with a hand-sweep, your brushed away his attack and counter-attacked with “Golden Star” or “Chop the Hua Mountain”. Now you reverse the role. If your opponent attacks you with a low punch, you strike him with a hand-sweep, but before he can counter-attack with “Golden Star” or “Chop the Hua Mountain” (like we have learned), you follow up with “Golden Star” or “Chop the Hua Mountain” instead. This is giving your opponent what he intends to give you.
Your opponent has an excellent counter — “Tame Tiger with Double Bows”. Here he applies the tactic of “no defence direct counter”, like what you did when you applied “False-Leg Hand Sweep” to his low punch. But this “Double Bows” attack is even faster. In “Hand Sweep” you counter-attack when his attack is just spent. In “Double Bows” he counter-attacks when you attack is still on its way.
Chop Hua Mountain
This “Double Bows” counter-attack provides an excellent opportunity for you to practice and develop your flexibility. To defend against this counter-attack, you move your front right leg backward from the right Bow-Arrow Stance to a right False Leg Stance, and simultaneously deflect his strike with a right tiger-claw. This movement demands much skill because you have to shift back your forward moving leg immediately it touches the ground in its forward movement.
This skill, which is essential for sound defence, has been introduced right at the start of the combat sequences. It involves the left leg mode in Sequences 1 to 4 (from “Black Tiger” to left “Single Tiger”), and the right leg mode in Sequences 5 and 6 (from “Fierce Tiger” to right “Single Tiger”). Speed was not as urgent in these combat situations because the opponent used the tactic of “first defence then counter”. Here the opponent not only uses “no defence direct counter”, but also his counter comes at a time when your attack has not even been completed. If you are trained to defend against this counter-attack well, defence in other situations will be relatively easier.
All these wonderful techniques and tactics are possible if our stances are both solid and flexible, showing how important stances are in combat even at this level, which is actually at the beginning stage of our kungfu training programme. In other words, those who prefer to bounce about, mistakenly thinking that stances are ineffective in fighting, have not been exposed to even the basics of kungfu philosophy and practice.
In the first combat sequence in our combat training programme, “Black tiger Steals Heart”, you developed two fundamental combat skills, namely right timing and right spacing. These two are fundamental skills, meaning very important skills that form the foundation of future development.
The third fundamental skill is appropriate force, which is developed in our force training programme like “Golden Bridge” and “One-Finger Shooting Zen”, and which we apply in our combat sequences. It is important that the force must be flowing, and not mechanical or staccato.
Without these three fundamental skills, a person cannot be combat efficient, even if he knows a lot of techniques. This is a common fault with many kungfu students — they think mistakenly that they can be more combat efficient by learning more techniques.
Skills have to be developed methodically, not merely learnt from a book or even from a master. A master provides you the method, and shows you how to do it, but you have to practice and practice to so that the skills become second-nature to you.
Free sparring is not a method to develop skills; it is a method to test whether you have developed the necessary skills to apply appropriate techniques in combat. This is a common fault with most martial art students today — they mistakenly think they can be combat efficient by practicing free sparring.
In this combat sequence, “Precious Duck Swims through Lotus”, you consolidate and improve upon the combat skills you have learnt, namely right timing, right spacing, right judgment and instantaneous change. We also have increased the choice of attack and defence from two to three alternatives.
In the first combat sequence, there is only one choice, which is actually no choice. The initiator attacks with “Black Tiger Steals Heart” and the responder defends with “Single Tiger Emerges from Cave”. Both the initiator and the responder know what the movements will be. The movements are pre-arranged so that being free from worrying what to move next, they can better focus on developing the skills of right timing, right spacing and appropriate force.
In the second combat sequence, the initiator has two choices — he can attack with “Black Tiger Steals Heart” or “White Snake Shoots Venom” — and the responder has to react accordingly. In this third combat sequence, the choice is increased to three, with the addition of “Precious Duck Swims through Lotus”. If the responder makes a wrong judgment, his instantaneous change is more difficult. In the previous two combat sequences, if he judges wrongly, he can still defend against the coming attack — his “Golden Dragon” can still defend against the ”Black Tiger”, and his ”Single Tiger” can still defend against the “White Snake”. But here he has to change his “Golden Dragon” or “Single Tiger” into a “Hand Sweep”.
Two new skills are introduced in this sequence. One is adjusting footwork. This skill is a development of right spacing. After defending your partner’s “White Snake” with your “Golden Dragon”, you have to bring back your front left leg a small step before moving forward a big step with your right leg for your counter-attack with “Precious Duck Swims through Lotus”. If you do not adjust your footwork, you would give your opponent a free advantage, i.e. an advantage he gains without having to do anything. You would have made it easy for him to strike you or fell you to the ground.
The second skill is covering yourself in your attack. You can do this by “taming” his front left hand, i.e. pushing it aside or “floating” it upward, with your left palm maintaining contact with his left arm, while you strike his side ribs with your right punch. Covering yourself is extremely important in any attack. This is what many other martial artists never do, exposing themselves to serious counter-strikes.
In the previous two combat sequences, the counter-attack mode is “first defend then counter”. Here the mode is “no defend direct counter”. As an opponent attacks you with “Precious Duck”, you need not block or ward off the attack first, then counter-attack. While moving your front left leg backward into a left false-leg stance, you directly strike his attacking arm with your hand-sweep.
“No defend” is a misnomer. It is not ignoring your own safety and go all out to attack, which would be foolish. Here, the defence is already incorporated in your counter-attack. As you move into your false leg stance for your counter-attack, you already have moved your body away from his attack.
One night, at Sifu Choe Hoong Choy’s house where he taught Wing Choon Kungfu in the garden at the back of his house, Uncle Cheong, a senior disciple of Sifu Choe Hoong Choy and well-respected kungfu master in his own right, visited the school. Some senior students were practising a staff set called Thirteen-Techniques Spear. Despite its name, it was a staff set, and a long tapering staff was used.
The students asked Uncle Cheong, who was an expert of the staff, about the combat application of a pattern called “High Mountain Flows Water”, where a staff was held slantingly away from the practitioner’s body with the head of the staff above the practitioner’s head, and the tapering tail of the staff slanting away almost touching the floor.
Uncle Cheong said, “It can be used to block a low sweeping attack.”
He then asked the student to sweep his legs and he blocked the attack using this pattern, “High Mountain Flows Water”.
Uncle Cheong then turned to me. “Kit Chye,” he said, “How would you use this pattern to block a low sweeping attack?”
“Kit Chye” (杰仔) was the name they called me. Other students would call me “Kit Kor” (杰哥), which means Elder Brother Kit. “Kit Chye” is an endearing term, often used by parents to call their children or elders to call their loved ones. It means “Kit, my lovely boy”.
“Uncle Cheong is an expert of the staff,” I replied indirectly.
“I know you are also an expert of the staff. Tell us one or two secrets.”
“I’m not sure whether I can tell one or two secrets.”
“Let’s ask our sifu.”
Uncle Cheong then turned to Sifu Choe Hoong Choy. “Sifu, would you let Kit Chye to reveal one or two secrets?”
“They are senior students. There’s no harm telling them one or two secrets,” Sifu Choe Hoong Choy said.
I took over the staff from Uncle Cheong, and asked the senior student to attack me with a low sweep.
As he did so, I blocked the attack as Uncle Cheong did earlier, but with the end of the staff gently hitting the attacker’s lower leg.
I asked him to attack again. I performed the same pattern blocking his attack, but this time with the tip of the staff pointing just an inch above a vital point between his lower leg and his foot.
Sifu Choe Hoong Choy and Uncle Cheong smiled noddingly.
“In a real fight,” Uncle Cheong told the student, “Your lower leg would be fractured as soon as you make the attack, or you would not be able to walk as your vital point at the foot would be dotted.”