(reproduced from http://shaolin.org/answers/sp-issues/versions.html)
I really want to learn the beautiful art of Shaolin Kung Fu. Please, I ask help because I can’t give up my dream.
— Ernando, Brazil
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
It is a beautiful and beneficial dream to learn and practice Shaolin Kungfu. To make your dream worthwhile and fruitful, it is necessary to know the following two points, which are not often appreciated by many people, including those who have practiced Shaolin Kungfu for many years.
Due to its long history, there are many versions of Shaolin Kungfu today. These many versions may be generalized into the following four categories:
- High level Shaolin Kungfu. This was the Shaolin Kungfu practiced by the top monks in the Shaolin Temple in China in the past. It is very combat effective, uses internal force, contributes to excellent health, and is a process of spiritual cultivation.
- Middle level Shaolin Kungfu. It is combat effective and contributes to good health. There is emphasis in force training, but much of it is external, like hitting sandbags and striking wooden poles. Its foucs is on combat rather than spiritual cultivation. Its training contributes to good health, but if the force training is incorrect or excessive it becomes detrimental to health.
- Low Level Shaolin Kungfu. Its practitioners practice genuine Shaolin kungfu forms but they do not know how to use Shaolin forms for combat, and has no spiritual cultivation. They borrow techniques of othe martial arts, like Karate and Kick-Boxing, for their force training and sparring. Their training may be detrimental to their health.
- Flowery Fists and Embroidery Kicks. Its practitioners have beautiful Shaolin Kungfu forms but have no force and are ineffective in combat. Their practice contributes to good health.
The classification is for convenience and there is often overlapping. If we accept kungfu as a martial art, it is even debatable whether the third and the fourth categories can be called kungfu, although practitioners of the third category can fight but they use techniques of other martial arts for their fighting and not those of kungfu.
Most of the Shaolin Kungfu practiced today belong to the thrid and the fourth categories. Kungfu of the second category is uncommon, and that of the first is rare.
It is important to realize this first point, otherwise you may spend many years practicing Shaolin Kungfu, and may even attain a high level in it, yet derive little benefits from your practice. This is because you may attain a high level of a low level art, which is quite common among many kungfu practitioners today.
The second important point is to appreciate the difference between learning and practicing. Learning involves knowing more and more material, often in theory. Practicing involves going over and over again material that you know, usually in action.
Even if you have a rare chance to learn high level Shaolin Kungfu but if you do not practice it regularly and sufficiently, you many not have many benefits. You may know kungfu history and philosophy in theory, but you may not be able to defend yourself, have good health, vitality and longevity, and experience peace and spiritual joy.
The question and answer are reproduced from Question 1 of the November 2006 Part 3 issue of the Question-Answer Series by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit.