Sifu I am still unclear about the harm that could be brought by over training or the training is too powerful.
— Dr Foong, Director of Holistic Health Cultivation Centre, Kuala Lumpur
Your question, or comment, is illuminating, and I would like to give a more detailed answer.
Over-training is a unique problem in our school. By “unique” I don’t mean that no one in the past over-trained. What I mean is that no school as a whole in the past and at present over-train at a scale and depth as we do.
Our over-training is closely related to our unbelievable cost-effectiveness. Our student can attain in one month what most other students would attain in one year — if they are lucky enough to practice genuine chi kung or genuine kungfu.
Most people, understandably, may consider us boastful over this statement, and some may become angry. They may concede that our school is twice better than most schools, or may be even three times better, which is a lot.
When I was a school teacher many years ago, I earned $2000 a month. When a colleague earned $4000 a month, that was a lot. If another colleague earned $6000 per month, that was incredible. (I was, of course, happy for them.)
But most people would not believe that we are more than 10 times more cost-effective than others, just as most teachers would not believe that a teacher could earn more than $20,000 a month.
Yet our typical student is more than 10 times more cost-effective than most other students, just as some rare teachers, not necessarily teaching in public schools, earn more than $20,000, though this is a small sum for some high-income earners like doctors and businessmen.
My conclusion that our typical students gain more than 10 times the benefits gained by other students is not made out of imagination, but based on facts.
Our typical students have internal force after practicing for three months. How many other kungfu practitioners have internal force after practicing for three years? Our typical students can use our kungfu for combat after practicing for six months. How many other kungfu practitioners can use their kungfu for combat after practicing for six years.
Your Holistic Health Cultivation Centre has helped many people suffering from so-called incurable diseases, including cancer, to recover after undergoing healing sessions for a few months. How many patients of so-called incurable diseases overcome their illness after treatment elsewhere after many years?
These examples are facts, not opinions. Anyone can find out whether the statements are true.
Hence, when our typical student gets 10 times the result of what other students get in other school, our students are over-training. Over-training means the benefits one receives from his training is too much or too fast for his body to adjust to, resulting in unpleasantness, tiredness, pain or other adverse effects. These adverse effects are a sigh to tell the practitioner to slow down his training so as to allow the body more time for adjustment.
There are two main ways to slow down one’s training — by reducing the time of training or reducing the intensity of training.
When one trains an hour a day, he can reduce the training by training for 15 minutes. But if he trains for only 15 minutes a day, like what our students do, there is not much time for him to reduce, though now, because of our increased efficiency, I advise our students to train for only 10 minutes.
We can also reduce the time of training by reducing its regularity. If a student trains for 10 minutes a day everyday, and still finds himself over-training, he can train once in two days, or once in three days. If he is advanced and powerful and still finds himself over-training, he can train just once a week.
But most of our students enjoy their training. They may not be happy training just once a week. An excellent approach to prevent over-training is to reduce its intensity. This is very effective for our instructors and advanced students who over-train.
An excellent way to reduce the intensity is not to go too deeply into a chi kung state of mind. In fact it is precisely because we enter into a deep chi kung state of mind that we have excellent result.
In theory it is simple, but in practice it may be difficult, even for our students. Here are some suggestions. Don’t take too long, like a minute, to be relaxed and clear the mind of all thoughts, and remain in this heightened level of consciousness. Take just a second or two. Relaxed, clear your mind and perform your exercise.
You can also focus on your form. If you are a beginner, get the outward form correct as best as you can. If you are advanced, aim for picture=perfect form. When you focus on your outward form, you perform the chi kung exercise more on the physical level and less on the mind level. Your result will be less, but it is still a lot compared to what other practitioners get, and minimize the possibility of you over-training.
You may notice that when students begin to learn form me, I ask them to not worry about their form. This is to get them onto the mind level and generate a chi flow. As they become more advanced, they pay more attention to their form.
Another suggestion which is negative but can prevent over-training is to purposely intellectualize and purposely tense your muscles once awhile. Tensing your muscles is not advisable, unless for specific reasons, but thinking of good thoughts while practicing is permissible. The intellectualizing will get you out of or to a shallower level of a chi kung state of mind, thus producing less result and preventing onver-training.
Purposely tensing our muscles can be useful in specific situations. When I sparred with somebody and accidentally hit him, and I sensed that my internal force was going into him, I purposely tense my muscle to prevent the flow of internal force hurting him. When you have over-trained but for some reason you still want to train, you can tense your muscles to prevent a lot of force developing. It can be uncomfortable. You have to do a gentle chi flow to clear the blockage.
Performing physical activities like practicing kungfu sets at a physical level, sparring with classmates, or going out with your family or friends, is a good way to expend energy, thus reducing over-cleansing due to over-training.
Remember that practicing chi kung is to enrich our life and the lives of others, and not to enslave ourselves to it. If you can get benefits in 10 minutes, you don’t have to practice for an hour. Use the time to enjoy other wholesome activities.
Over-training is very important in healing, i.e. teaching patients at a level much higher than they can absorb, or enabling them to recover faster then they can cope with. I shall deal with this topic in the next question you ask.
A healer told me that too powerful chi kung would not harm a patient. I told him that it would be harmful. The healer said that he was already an expert in chi kung healing. What is your comment, Sifu?
You are right and the healer wrong.
Too powerful chi kung is not only harmful to sick people, it is also harmful to healthy persons. It is like asking someone to run a marathon or lift heavy weights.
Even when he is healthy, if he is untrained, running a marathon or lifting weights will be harmful to him. If he is sick, it will aggravate his illness or may even kill him.
It is like taking medication. If a doctor asks a patient to take two pills, the patient must take two pills. If he takes 10 pills, he may be killed.
As you know very well, chi kung for healing is the lowest level of chi kung. The other levels in ascending order are chi kung fro health, chi kung for scholars, chi kung for warriors, and chi kung for spiritual cultivation. Although it is at the lowest level, chi kung for healing is the most useful today. This is because many people today, unlike in the past, practice chi kung to overcome their pain and illness.
If a healer teaches chi kung for warriors to sick people , he may kill them. It is like putting an engine of an aeroplane in a small car.
That healer may be an expert if he knows a lot about chi kung healing, but he may not be a master healer. A master healer is determined not by how much he knows but how well he helps patients overcome their illness.
One way to prevent over-training is not to enter deeply into a chi kung state of mind
Someone told me that as long as a person spent one hundred thousand hours on an art, he became a genius. I don’t agree because there are many other factors involved for one to become a genius or a real expert. What is your opinion, Sifu?
I agree with you, and disagree with the person who said that if one practiced an art one hundred thousand hours he would become a genius. If his practice is wrong, he becomes a big fool. Not only he has waste his time and effort, he has harmed himself, often seriously and unnecessarily.
This is the case with many martial artists today. They practice a martial art so as to become healthy and be able to defend themselves. But the more they practice the more unhealthy they become, and they cannot defend themselves. They merely exchange blows and kicks with their sparring partners in free sparring, and their injuries are usually unattended to.
Here is a list of factors a student may work on to get the best benefits from the practice of any art.
Have a sound philosophical understanding of the art.
Define his aims and objectives in pursuing the art.
Find the best available teacher according to his (the student’s) resources.
Practice the art according to the way the teacher teaches, and not according to the way the student thinks the art should be practiced.
Periodically access his result according to his set aims and objectives.
The same guidelines can also be applied to a patient seeking to overcome his illness and attain good health, vitality and longevity.
Have a philosophical understanding of his illness and healing.
Set aims and objectives, like overcoming his illness, and attaining good health, vitality and longevity.
Seek the best healer according to his resources.
Practice the healing procedure according to what the healer prescribes and not according to what the patient thinks to be done.
Periodically access his result according to his set aims and objectives.
I’ve been reviewing some videos to further increase my knowledge of what the world thinks about Baguazhang and recently saw a few Baguazhang weapons videos.
— Fredrick Chu, USA
What you are doing will contribute much to your understanding and attainment in Baguazhang. But it is important to know that what the world thinks of Baguazhang and what videos show on Baguazhang weapons may not be what Baguazzhang and Baguazhang weapons really are. This awareness is even more important in many other styles of kungfu, chi kung and spiritual cultivation.
Indeed, it is shocking how much kungfu, chi kung and spiritual cultivation have deviated from their original purposes and practice as shown in what the world thinks of these arts, and in what videos, even by well known world masters, show these arts to be.
What the world thinks of kungfu is often represented by Bruce Lee, despite the fact that Bruce Lee rejected both kungfu philosophy and methodology. For example, Bruce Lee thought that stance training, which forms the foundation of all kungfu, was ineffective, and his training methods were precisely what traditional kingfu masters warned against.
If you examine videos showing free sparring amongst kungfu practitioners, with the exception of those from Shaolin Wahnam, virtually all of them use boxing and kick-boxing, with hardly any kungfu techniques. If you watch videos on kungfu weapons, again with the exception of those from Shaolin Wahnam, there are hardly any on using kungfu weapons in combat, which is precisely the reason why the weapons are for.
If you watch videos on the demonstration of a Guandao, or the Knife of Guan, which is a long, heavy weapon, you will see that the controlling hand of most demonstrators holds the weapon just below its blade, and that the blade of the weapon is flimsy, which negate its advantage of being a long weapon, and a heavy weapon. Holding the weapon just below its blade would not enable its practitioner to use it on horseback or to cut it through the armour of an opponent, which were precisely what a Guandao was for.
A Small Universe Course where participants attain a “real break-through”
One of the weapons that many people mention when discussing Baguazhang is the Deer Horn Knife (I’ve also heard them called the Meridian Knives and the Mandarin Duck Knives). I have to admit, the weapons look rather spectacular, having many cutting edges and sharp points.
I was wondering what are the special characteristics of the Deer Horn Knives? How do they enhance Baguazhang practice? Are certain weapons more conducive to enhancing or bringing out the best of Baguazhang, such as the straight sword, the single knife, or the huge “Bagua dadao”?
The Dear Horn Knives are so named because diagrammatically they resemble the antlers of a stag. They are also called Meridian Knives and Mandarin Duck Knives because they are always used in pair.
Indeed, they look spectacular. The weapons are just sharp edges and points.
The special characteristics of the Dear Horn Knives are its sharp blades and points, which make them highly destructive. It is almost impossible for an opponent to dislodge the weapons from the exponent. The horns of the weapons can be used to lock or capture an opponent’s weapon.
Any hit of the weapons will cause bloodshed. The main techniques are cutting, slicing and piercing.
Interestingly, while the Deer Horn Knives are closely associated with Baguazhang, their training does not enhance Baguazhang practice. Circulating the hands round the body is a special feature of Baguazhang, but the sharp blades and points of the Deer Horn Knives do not facilitate this feature. But the agility of Baguazhmg contributes to an effective application of these weapons, so long as the exponent does not circulate the weapons round his body and cut himself.
The straight sword is the most conducive in bringing out the best in Baguazhang, and vice versa. In both the sword and Baguazhang, agility and flowing movement are of utmost importance. The swordsman, however, must not use his sword to circulate round his body like what a Baguazhang exponent does with his hands.
The Single Knife, or sabre, is also conducive in bringing out the qualities in Baguazhang, and vice versa. Circulating the sabre or the arms round the body is a frequently used skill in sabre and Baguazhang performance and application.
The huge Bagua Dadao is a large sabre that is quite out of size. Because of its huge size, it is good for training internal force or mechanical strength for those who have no internal force. Personally, I do not favour it because its excessive large size distract its application as a sabre
About a week or two ago, I felt the “false breakthrough” of the Small Universe during Baguazhang Circle Walking. It was the first time that I’ve clearly felt energy flowing through meridians (normally, my energy feels more diffuse or like waves passing across my body). I was walking the circle and my posture aligned in such a way that I began clearly feeling pockets of energy flowing along the Small Universe circuit.
I was wondering if Baguazhang, or any other particular martial arts, particularly well known for achieving the Small Universe and Big Universe?
Congratulations for your break-through of the Small Universe, even though it is “false” or apparent, and not “real” or permanent. A “false break-through” does not mean it is only an illusion and that there is really no break-through.
The term “false” is used relative to “real”. A “false break-through” does not mean there is no break-through. It occurs when a bubble of energy goes round the Ren and Du Meridians, and the defilements that block the meridians are being pushed through by the bubble of energy, but they may resume their blockage after the bubble has gone through.
A “real break-through” occurs when the Du and Ren Meridians are fully filled with energy flowing continuously and harmoniously round the meridians. A real break-through of the Small Universe enables practitioners to live beyond a hundred years.
Baguazhang being an internal art is more suitable than many other kungfu styles for attaining a Small Universe. But only Baguashang masters who have practiced for many years may have this attainment. It will be faster if they learn the art of Small Universe separately. But Baguashang practitioners who practice only the external aspects of Baguazhang will never attain the Small Universe.
If all other things were equal, Wudang Taijiquan and Dragon Strength would be more effective than Baguazhang to attain the Small Universe. This is because the internal force in these two arts is more flowing than that in Baguazhang.
Your attaining a break-through of the Small Universe, even a “false” one, is remarkable. Congratulations. Such an attainment is not likely to happen in most other schools.
A historical Baguazhang course at the UK Summer Camp 2012
Also, I remember hearing from my Sifu that Reverse Breathing is an important part of Small Universe training. I do know that at some point I would like to open the Small Universe, thanks to you, Sigung, and my Sifu’s writing about its amazing benefits.
I learnt Reverse Breathing at Goat Stance from my old Taijiquan sifu, and I had some good benefits like beginning to build and store energy at my dan tian, but I haven’t practiced it in a long time (mostly because shortly thereafter, I learnt from you and my Sifu in Florida).
Would it be worthwhile for me to begin practicing Reverse Breathing at Goat Stance if I wanted to further pursue the Small Universe, or should I wait until I’m able to spend a fair amount of time with you or my Sifu (for example, at a Small Universe course) to learn how to attain the Small Universe?
Reverse Breathing is an advanced art. It should be learnt from a competent teacher as wrong practice can cause serious problems.
When I was learning the Small Universe from my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, I made a mistake unknowingly while practicing Reverse Breathing. My chi accumulated about an inch on one side of my dan tian (I can’t remember now whether it was on the left side or the right side). It took me about three months of remedial exercise to correct it.
Many people mistake Reverse Breathing as Chest Breathing. They are different, though they look alike. In both cases, a practitioner’s chest rises as he breaths in. It rises more in Chest Breathing than in Reverse Breathing.
But in Chest Breathing it is air that goes into the chest. In Reverse Breathing it is energy, not air, that goes into the dan tian, or flows in a small universal circuit.
You should not attempt Reverse Breathing on your own. You can learn it from your sifu if you spend a fair amount of time with him, or learn it from me at a Small Universe course.
I was talking with Sifu recently and he told me that at my level I really needed to begin practicing regularly with other people to further refine my sparring and fighting skills. Funnily enough, shortly after the Legacy of Wong Fei Hoong Summer Camp (which I was unfortunately unable to attend), I was lucky enough to find a good school of Hoong Ka Kung Fu.
One of the things I liked immediately was the fact that the school does a lot of Asking Bridge in preparation for free sparring. Even though I haven’t had more than a handful of opportunities to train with and spar with people in the past two years, my stances, footwork, and internal force served me very well; I was routinely driving back and out-flanking people who had been in this school for about four or five years. The sifu complimented me on my solid stances and how my footwork always seemed to cut off my partner’s avenues of escape. I wanted to thank you again for teaching me those skills in Baguazhang, they are coming in handy a lot here!
This is no surprise because we pay a lot of attention on stances and footwork, but many other schools don’t. And Baguazhang is well known for footwork.
I did have a question about Asking Bridge and “bridging” in general. I noticed that this school and many others (which I’ve seen mostly in documentaries and on YouTube) use the One Finger Zen hand-form (which they call “Bridge Hand”) and their forearms for initially contacting with an opponent’s arms, especially during or immediately after defending against a strike.
What is it about this hand-form that makes it so popular in Hoong Ka schools compared to, say, the thread hand, Tiger Claws, or open palms? I personally feel more comfortable and sensitive with the thread-hand and open palms, but that may just be my Baguazhang background.
“Bridge Hand” or “kiew sau” in Chinese (Cantonese) refers to the forearm, not the One-Finger Zen hand form. The forearm is called a “bridge” because it is the part that is usually in contact with an opponent.
The term “Bridge Hand” is usually used in Hoong Ka Kungfu, and other styles derived from Southern Shaolin. It is seldom used in internal arts like Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, or styles derived from Northern Shaolin like Praying Mantis, Tantui and Wuzuquan.
Besides in our school, the One-Finger Zen hand form, which is different from “Bridge Hand”, is now found mainly in Hoong Ka Kungfu, and rarely in other kungfu styles. It is mainly used to develop internal force, and at advanced levels for dim mark, i.e. dotting energy points. However, I suspect that most students today just perform the external form of One-Finger Zen hand form without knowing its inner significance.
I once asked my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, why the One-Finger Zen hand form was used to develop internal force. He told me that it activated the lung meridian. I followed up asking why was the lung meridian in particular activated in developing internal force. He said, in Cantonese, “fai wei hei zi fu”, which in Englsih means the lungs are the organs for energy. As developing internal force needs flowing energy, activating the lung meridians using One-Finger Zen is a very cost-effective hand form
In Hoong Ka Kungfu the One-Finger Zen hand form is used to develop internal force, though many Hoong Ka practitioners may not know how to do so, or may not even realize it. They perform the hand form because it is found in their sets, just as most kungfu practitioners of any style today perform their patterns because the patterns are found in their style, but they do not know the significance of these patterns.
In combat or even in solo performance, the thread hand using the dragon hand form, the tiger claw and the open palm are equally popular. In fact, when deflecting an opponent’s attack, like a thrust punch, Hoong Ka practitioners seldom use the One-Finger Zen hand form; they use the thread hand, the tiger claw or the open palm.
As an analogy, the Horse-Riding Stance is usually employed when developing internal force. But in combat it is seldom used.
Why is the One-Finger Zen hand form found in Hoong Ka and not in other styles. This was probably because the One-Finger Zen hand form was widely used in developing internal force in Southern Shaolin, and Hoong Ka Kungfu was the moist typical of Southern Shaolin. In fact, Hoong Ka patriarchs like Wong Fei Hoong and Lam Sai Weng called their kungfu Shaolin, and not Hoong Ka.
Then why is the One-Finger Zen hand form not found in other Southern Shaolin styles like Wing Choon and Choy-Li-Fatt. This was probably because the first patriarchs of these styles used other methods of force training. Yim Wing Choon, for example, used Siu Lin Tou which did not have the One-Finger Zen hand form. Chan Harng, the founder of Choy-Li-Fatt used a wooden man.
Editorial Note: Fredericks other questions will be continued at June 2015 Part 3 issue of the Question-Answer Series.