The Thirty Six Strategies are actually not strategies in the sense of overall plans of action, but rather ruses or tricks to overcome particular problems. In Chinese, the 36 strategies are called ji, whereas the strategies in the Art of War, for example, are call fa. There 36 strategies or tricks were used at different times in history by strategists, generals and important people, but are collected into a book by an unnamed author.
The 36 strategies are conveniently classified into six groups as follows. Like Shaolin kungfu patterns, the titles of the 36 strategies are poetically described in four characters.
1. Deceive Heaven to Cross Sea
2. Surround Wei to Save Zhao
3. Borrow Knife to Kill Another
4. Use Rest to Wait for Labour
5. Rob while Fire is Burning
6. Sound East Attack West
7. From Nothing Born Something
8. Secretly Escape via Chen Cang
9. Across Beach Watch Fire
10. Knife Hidden in Smile
11. Plum Sacrifices for Peach
12. Snatch Goat Along Way
13. Hit Grass Startle Snake
14. Borrow Body to Reincarnate
15. Trick Tiger Leave Mountain
16. To Catch So Release
17. Throw Stone Attract Jade
18. Catch Bandits Catch Leader
19. Beneath Cauldron Withdraw Firewood
20. Troubled Water Catch Fish
21. Golden Cicada Sheds Shell
22. Close Door Catch Thief
23. Far Befriend Near Attack
24. Borrow Passage Attack Guo
25. Steal Beam Change Pillar
26. Point Mulberry Scold Acacia
27. Fake Madness Not Insane
28. Ascend Roof Remove Ladder
29. Tree Top Blossom Flowers
30. Turn Guest Become Host
I am sure we shall have a lot of fun as well as benefit from the answers to the questions submitted.
Some of us may have the impression that the 36 strategies are tricks to deceive other people. As scholar-warriors we want to defeat our opponents in honorable ways, which was the tradition of great masters in the past. So some of us may think the 36 strategies are not suitable. But this is not so. In fact, knowing the 36 strategies help us to win honorably.
Firstly, we are aware of tricks our opponents may use on us. The 36 strategies are comprehensive, and so include any tricks opponents may think of, regardless of whether they know the 36 strategies. This is following the advice of the great strategist, Sun Tze, i.e. know your enemy and know yourself, and you will win hundred battles out of hundred. Sun Tze himself used these tricks frequently. These 36 tricks are effective tools to implement the strategies described in the Art of War.
Secondly, tricks by themselves are neutral. It is the intention behind that makes our action facilitated by the tricks noble. You will be pleased to know that the great Guan Yin Bodhisattva used the first of these 36 strategies, Deceive Heaven to Cross Sea, on Monkey God. The result is that not only it brought a lot of benefit to the Monkey God, but also it brings a lot of benefit to people all over the world, including us.
After being released by the Venerable Xuan Zhang, or Tripitaka, from the Five-Finger Mountain which imprisoned Monkey God, he became a disciple of Xuan Zhang to protect the master in the journey to the West to bring sutras back to China for translation. (If this did not happen, most of the Buddhist sutras which were originally written in Sanskrit would be lost.) But Monkey God was mischievous and would not always listen to Xuan Zhang.
So Guan Yin Bodhisattva appeared as an elderly lady with a crown in the form of a golden ring and a magnificent robe, and presented them to Monkey God who gladly wore them. Then Guan Yin Bodhisattva taught Xuan Zhang a ring-tightening mantra. Whenever Monkey God did not follow Xuan Zhang’s instructions, the master would recite the mantra, which would tighten the ring on Monkey God’s head causing him inextricable pain. Monkey God knew 72 transformations. He could, for example, change himself into a fly, but the ring would contract accordingly. The pain would stop only when Xuan Zhang stopped chanting the mantra.
In fact two of the 36 strategies originated from the stories of Monkey God and Immortal Li, namely Rob While Fire is Burning and Borrow Body to Reincarnate. We shall read about these interesting stories in the relevant answers.
This itself makes the Thirty Six Strategies Course very special. Monkey God and Immortal Li, who have frequently guided, protected and blessed us, are the source of two of the Thirty Six Strategies.
So the Thirty Six Strategies Course during the Valentine Festival in Ireland is not about learning how to trick people doing something which they would not normally do, but about learning to be cost effective so as to enrich our lives and the lives of other people. These strategies, collected over many centuries, are still being actively used by military strategists, business leaders and top people all over the world today.
Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
10th January 2013
Guan Yin Bodhisattva and Monkey God
A course on the Thirty Six Strategies was held on 22nd and 23rd August 2015 in Ireland. Please see Harvest Festival 2015 for details.
I did not realize that Cosmic Shower was more advanced than Bone Marrow Cleansing.
— Sifu Angel Perez Oliveras, Puerto Rico
There are five levels in Bone Marrow Cleansing, so it takes two courses, Part 1 and Part 2, to complete the programme. These five levels range from basic to advanced levels. I can adjust the level I want to teach.
When I first taught Bone Marrow Cleansing, I taught its highest level, the level of cleansing nerves, which was higher than Cosmic Shower when the latter was initially taught. I have since lowered the level of cleansing nerves.
Meanwhile, the level of Cosmic Shower, which initially was just cosmic energy showering down the body, has been raised due to improvement of my teaching methodology. Now I teach Cosmic Shower for strengthening too, strengthening at all levels, i.e. the physical,. emotional, mental and spiritual. As a result, in general Cosmic Shower is now of a higher level than Bone Marrow Cleansing.
Nevertheless, this is relative because we can vary the level on which to operate the art we are practicing. In other words, not only I myself can vary the level of the exercise we practice, I also teach students how to do so. This is a master’s ability. Actually even many masters cannot do so. These masters practice the art at the level when they first learned it from their teachers. They may become more skillful at their level, but they do not go beyond the level of the exercise they learned it.
As an analogy, if a student learns and relearns his secondary school material, he may be very good at his secondary school material, far better than other secondary school students, but he won’t be able to deal with university material.
But our students are different. They are taught how to use their secondary school level at university level. They not only learn that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, which secondary school students learn, but also how this relationship can benefit both Peurto Rico and continental United States, material that university students would discuss.
In Cosmic Shower, which actually is university material in chi kung as not many chi kung practitioners have a chance to learn such a skill even when they may have practiced for many years, our students not only learn how to let cosmic energy flow through their body, but also how and why the cosmic flow can clear their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual blockage to enrich their daily lives in all aspects.
Is it alright for beginning students to take Bone Marrow Cleansing after Generating Energy Flow, and skip Cosmic Shower and Cosmic Breathing? Can they take all the chi kung courses offered if they want to?
Yes, students who are fresh beginners can take the Bone Marrow Cleansing course after taking the Generating Chi Flow course, and skip Cosmic Shower and Cosmic Breathing.
In fact they can take all the qigong courses as long as they have taken the Generating Energy Flow course. The Generating Energy Flow course is fundamental, which means not only basic but also very important.
It is basic because without generating an energy flow, one is not practicing chi kung even when he performs chi kung techniques. He performs the chi kung techniques as gentle physical exercise, and may not realize the fact. More than 80% of all chi kung practitioners in the world fall under this category.
Some people may be angry at this statement, and that is their business. But if those in this category take heed of the advice and do something about it, but not necessarily learning from us, they will start to get chi kung benefits which they have missed despite all those years of dedicated training.
Our chi kung programme where even fresh beginners can take all the chi kung courses offered is actually quite ridiculous — in a good sense. Students progress form a fresh beginners’ level to a masters’ level in just two days.
Even genuine masters, who are rare and have dedicated their lives to practicing chi kung for more than 20 years, may not have the skills of Bone Marrow Cleansing, Cosmic Shower or Cosmic Breathing. They are masters of the art they practice, which, honestly without being disrespectful to them, are relatively of a low level, consisting of repeating chi kung techniques many, many times to generate some energy flow.
Most other masters are, strictly speaking, not even genuine chi kung practitioners because they perform chi kung techniques not as energy exercise but as gentle physical exercise. They cannot generate an energy flow. But we still call them “masters” out of respect.
Isn’t it ridiculous that fresh beginners at our chi kung courses can learn not only techniques but more importantly skills that even masters may not learn? But our students do not become masters in two days. They still need time to practice their techniques and skills to master them.
But our students do not need 20 years to become masters, they need only 2 years. Why do our students need only one-tenth the time? It is because we understand the underlying philosophy and our training is systematic and progressive.
Generating Energy Flow is sufficient to fulfill the needs of most people
What advice should I give the students?
Some good advice to tell beginning students is for them to focus on Generating Energy Flow, and to practice the more advanced exercises like Bone Marrow Cleansing, Cosmic Shower and Cosmic Breathing only occasionally to maintain the skills and techniques. They may practice these more advanced exercises later on when they have become more proficient in chi kung.
For people who want to overcome pain and illness and to maintain well-being, it is not necessary to learn the more advanced exercises. Generating Energy Flow is more than enough to fulfill the needs of most people.
But “not necessary” does not mean “not beneficial”. As an analogy, if one is prepared to walk, it is not necessary to own a bicycle, a car or take a flight on an aeroplane. If he is to see a friend on the next street, it would be easier to walk.
But he has to walk, if he remains in his house he would not see his friend. In the same way, if he wants to overcome pain and illness, he has to practice Generating Energy Flow. If he does not practice, he will not get well.
If he has to go to a faraway place, it would be faster and more comfortable to take a car or an aeroplane. The car and the plane are not necessary, though very beneficial. The Polynesian people, for example, reached the East Indies before cars and planes were invented, though their journey took much longer time and was less comfortable, besides being more risky.
So, although the more advanced chi kung courses are not necessary, they are very beneficial. Indeed, it would be unwise if beginning students do not make full use of this opportunity to learn these courses, as the present plan is that I visit Puerto Rico only once in two years to teach the techniques and transmit the skills of these courses. This will be good advice to them, i.e. don’t miss the opportunity when it is available.
In the pattern, “Immortal Emerges from Cave”, which part of the hand should make contact with an opponent’s arm?
I normally use the outer edge of the palm and sometimes the base of the palm.
— Sifu Leonard Lackinger, Austria
In “Immortal Emerges from Cave” the outer edge of the palm should make contact with an opponent’s elbow or forearm. This may result in dislocating the opponent’s elbow or fracturing his forearm. It is a strike, and not a block.
However, if you wish to be merciful, you can use the base of your palm to stop his attack, instead of dislocating his elbow or fracturing his forearm.
Editorial Note: Sifu Leonard Lackinger’s other questions are found at August 2015 Part 2 issue of the Question-Answer Series.
A well executed “Immortal Emerges from Cave” can dislocate an opponent’s elbow or break his arm in just one move
Would you regard this pattern as a direct counter or only as a floating defence movement?
This pattern can be used as a no-defence-direct-counter, or as a floating movement.
The reason why I ask is because it is one of the hardest of the basic patterns, causing much damage on the opponent’s arm if done with some force.
The harder an opponent attacks you, the easier it will be for you to dislocate his elbow or break his arm. If you do not want to hurt him, you can float his attacking movement.
Grandmaster Wong demonstrating “Fierce Tiger Cleanses Claws”
Thank you for providing the ranking of chi kung techniques in your great 10 Questions Series on the Five-Animal Play.
As the art of Bone Marrow Cleansing consists of 5 levels, I tried to put them into the list separately.
Self-Manifested Chi Movement
5 Animal Play
18 Lohan Hands
18 Shaolin Wahnam Chi Kung Techniques
Bone Marrow Cleansing – Skin Level
Grasping Sparrow’s Tail
18 Lohan Art
Bone Marrow Cleansing – Flesh Level
One Finger Shooting Zen
Bone Marrow Cleansing – Meridian Level
Bone Marrow Cleansing – Organ Level
Bone Marrow Cleansing – Bone Marrow Level
Phenomenal Big Universe
Cosmic Breathing (Transcendental Big Universe)
Merging with the Cosmos (Transcendental Big Universe)
Would you regard that list as correct?
The listing is subjective, and may vary according to some factors, like different practitioners, different times even for the same practitioner, state of mind, level of focus and relaxation, and developmental stage.
Generally your list is correct.
Provided they suit to this list, where would you put Iron Wire, Fierce Tiger Cleanses Claws and Forceful Big Windmill?
I would place Iron Wire after Golden Bridge, Fierce Tiger Cleanses Claws after Bone Marrow Cleansing Organ Level, and Forceful Big Windmill after Bone Marrow Cleansing Flesh Level.
I know that it’s mainly a mind play and that the true ranking depends on the skill and focus of the practitioner, but the list is a good guideline for selecting the program for current and future advanced chi kung classes.
You are right. The mind set, skill and focus of the practitioner are very important.
One main reason why we have remarkable result is because we operate at the mind level. This explains why past masters mentioned that the greatest kungfu was at the mind.
Operating at the mind level does not mean visualization, as some people wrongly imagine, though visualization is sometimes employed. In fact, one can obtain tremendous result by keeping the mind clear, i.e. without any visualization.
Operating at the mind level generally means how deeply a practitioner enters into a meditative state of mind while practicing his art.
Skill is of course very important too. It is another main reason why we can obtain remarkable result.
Most people, including many masters, think that by practicing the right technique they can get the desired result. In my earlier years, I thought in this way too.
But it is so clear that this is not so, though most people fail to realize it. But once we realize it, it can become quite shocking. More than 80% of chi kung practitioners do not derive chi kung benefits although the chi kung techniques they employ are correct. More than 90% of kungfu practitioners cannot use their kungfu for combat although their kungfu techniques are correct. The reason is that they do not have the required skills.
Focus is related to mind, though it is possible to be focused yet not in a meditative or chi kung state of mind. Of course, when one is in a chi kung state of mind, he is focused.
Being focused is not the same as being concentrated in a stressful manner. Due to the limitation of language, some people may have this misconception. That is why they wonder, wrongly, how one could be focused and relaxed at the same time.
If you have any questions, please e-mail them to Grandmaster Wong via his Secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org stating your name, country and e-mail address.
Students at a regional chi kung course in Austria generating a chi flow from their chi kung techniques
Why do many chi kung practitioners not get any health benefits even when they have practiced chi kung for many years? It is because they do not have chi flow.
This question and the answer are very important. If only hundred of thousands of chi kung practitioners have asked this question, and understand the answer, they would not have wasted a lot of time, in matter of years.
Indeed, chi kung is chi flow. If there is no chi flow, the practitioner is only performing chi kung patterns as gentle physical exercise. This, in fact, is what hundreds of thousands of chi kung practitioners all over the world are doing.
It is chi flow, not the chi kung exercises, that gives the chi kung practitioners health benefits like good health, vitality and longevity. This truth is so important that I would like to repeat it:
It is chi flow, not the chi kung exercises, that gives the chi kung practitioners good health, vitality and longevity
As an analogy, it is cash flow, not the job you do, that enables you to fulfill your economic needs, like paying for your house and food, going for holidays, and buying a car. Even if you work very well as an executive, a doctor, a businessman or on any job, if your job does not bring you cash flow, you would be unable to fulfill your economic needs.
In the same way, even if you perform your chi kung exercise, like Lifting the Sky, Carrying the Moon, Flicking Fingers, Grasping Sparrow’s Tail, or Golden Gridge, very well, but if the exercise does not result in chi flow, you will be unable to fulfill your health needs.
Hence, it becomes quite clear that it is sheer folly when practitioners try their best to perfect their chi kung form but do not pay any attention to chi flow. It is like someone doing very well in their job but is not paid for the work.
This does not mean that we can neglect our form. Just as a job shabbily done does not generate good cash flow, a chi kung exercise badly performed does not generate good chi flow. But it is important to realize that it is the chi flow, not the exercises themselves, that give good health, vitality and longevity.
Why does good chi flow give us good health, vitality and longevity? It is like asking why good cash flow gives us good economic benefits.
Good chi flow will give us a good life, with good health, vitality and longevity, because life is a function of chi flow, just as good cash flow will give us a good economic life because economic life is a function of cash flow. Just as our economic life is based on cash flow, our health, vitality and longevity are based on chi flow.
Life is a meaningful flow of energy. When the energy flow of a person is blocked, the quality of his life is affected, manifested as pain and illness. When his energy flow clears the blockage and resumes its smooth flow, he regains good health. When his energy flow becomes vigorous, he has vitality. When he has more energy than he needs, it is stored in his dan tian and side meridians, giving him a good supply of energy flow, which means that his energy flow will go on for a long time resulting in his longevity.
Students at an Intensive Chi Kung Course in Sabah enjoying energy flow
Many people would be surprised when told that it does not matter what illness they may suffer from, and it does not matter what intermediate factors have caused their illness, but when their blockage has been cleared and their chi flow resumed, they will regain good health. This fact has been confirmed again and again in our chi kung classes.
There are many students suffering from different diseases in a class. We do not even have to ask the students what diseases they suffer from, or what have caused their diseases. We teach them the same chi kung exercises and ensure they have good chi flow. Soon they report that they have recovered from their diseases.
Again it is illuminating to compare chi flow with cash flow. Suppose you earn 3000 euros a month, which is just enough to pay for your house rent and food with a little left for some pleasures like dining in a good restaurant or spending a weekend by the beach.
For some reasons, this month your cash flow is blocked; you only have 1000 euros flowing through you. You will not only be unable to dine in a good restaurant or spend a weekend by the beach, but also have difficulty paying for your house rent and food. The intermediate cause may be your boss not paying you in time, or you having lent some money to a friend, or you overspent the previous month.
Irrespective of the intermediate causes and their resultant symptoms, like being unable to pay for your house rent or spending a weekend at the beach, the fundamental cause is a blockage of cash flow. If you can clear the blockage and resume the cash flow of 3000 euros a month, you can resume your normal economic activities, including overcoming whatever economic needs like paying your house rent or spending a weekend at the beach.
Better still, if you can make your cash flow more vigorous, like increasing a cash flow of 3000 euros per month to 30,000 euros per month, you can not only fulfill your normal economic needs but also do things that you previously wanted to but could not, like going for an oversea tour, buying a new car or buying an apartment for your parents.
It is the same with chi flow. Suppose your normal chi flow is 3000 units of energy per month. If for some reasons your chi flow this month is blocked with the result that you have only 1000 units of energy flowing through you, not only you may be unable to enjoy the little pleasures like playing tennis and climbing hills, but also unable to perform normal life activities like clearing pollutants from your lungs and harmful viruses from your body, resulting in you suffering from asthma or viral infection.
Better still, if you can make your chi flow vigorous, like increasing your chi flow from 3000 units of energy per month to 30,000 units of energy per month, you will not only be able to carry on your normal life activities but also do things that you previously wanted to but could not, like enjoying your work and play, having mental clarity and internal force, and experiencing spiritual joys.
It is also worthwhile to note that the intermediate causes of your illness may be stress, a drastic change of climate, or eating wrong food, but the fundamental cause is energy blockage. Irrespective of the intermediate causes and their resultant symptoms, if you can clear your energy blockage and resume your normal chi flow of 3000 units of energy per month, you will not only be able to play tennis and climb hills but also resume your normal life activities, including clearing pollutants from your lungs and harmful viruses from your body, resulting in your overcoming asthma or viral infection.
Actually it doesn’t matter what the intermediate causes and resultant symptoms are — i.e. it doesn’t matter whether the intermediate causes are stress, climatic change, wrong food, pollens, viruses, bacteria, negative emotions, etc, and it doesn’t matter whether the illness is asthma, viral infection, diabetes, chronic pain, depression, phobia, etc — as long as you restore your meaningful energy flow, you will have good health, which means you will be free from pain and illness.
In the same way, it doesn’t matter what the intermediate causes and resultant symptoms of economic ills are — i.e. it doesn’t matter whether the intermediate causes are that your boss failed to pay you, your client’s cheque bounced, your lost money in an investment, etc, and it doesn’t matter whether your economic ills are unable to pay rent, dine in good restaurants, buy expensive presents, go for holidays, etc — as long as you restore your cash flow you will have economic health.
Just as it is cash flow and not the job you do that enables you to enjoy economic benefits, it is chi flow and not the chi kung exercises you perform that enables you to enjoy good health, vitality and longevity.
The chi flow at a Shaolin Kungfu course can be quite spectacular
An unforgettable incident, which had much effect in my healing of other people years later, happened one night when I was alone, as my usual friends for some reasons or others were not around to play. I went out of the New World Park and looked around at a hawker selling a variety of fruits. I had twenty cents in my pocket, given to me by my father. Twenty cents was quite a lot of money at that time, especially for a small boy of eight. One could buy a bowl of noodles, which could fill up one’s stomach as lunch or dinner, with twenty cents.
Although my mother did not know much about science, she was to my young boy’s mind quite a dietician. Like most Chinese, she conveniently classified food into two types – hot food and cold food. Hot food was her favourite, and cold food was strictly forbidden.
“Mama,” sometimes I would beseech, “Can I have a slice of orange, just a slice?”
“Oh no, my dear,” my mother would sweetly persuaded, “Oranges are too cold for you.”
“How about a banana, mama?”
“Bananas are cold too. Fruits are cold food. They will make you sick.”
It is enthralling that now, sixty years later, I can eat bananas like a monkey and drink fresh orange juice like a horse, and become healthier.
So that night I was just curious, besides being tempted to have a taste of the forbidden fruit to find out whether bananas could make me sick. I saw a long, big banana known locally as an elephant’s tusk in a transparent ice box. It was quite expensive, costing 10 cents per banana, compared to a bowl of noodles costing only 20 cents.
Well, ten cents for a taste of a forbidden fruit, I thought, was quite a bargain. So I paid ten cents and had the banana.
It was exquisite and delicious, sweet and fragrant in every bite. It was not only the first time I ate such a sweet and fragrant elephant tusk, it was the first time I ate any fruit. I was discreet enough not to mention this to my parents.
But my secret did not last long. Soon after midnight, I started to have stomach ache. At first, the pain was mild but it quickly became terrible, causing me to roll wildly in bed. I had no choice but to tell my parents about me eating a forbidden fruit. My parents were very caring and loving. Instead of scolding me, they were decisive and acted immediately to ease my pain.
There was no time to take me to see a doctor or to the hospital. Even if they had time, it might not be a right choice. Their method was extraordinary – at least to Westerners, though it was a folk practice amongst the traditional Chinese. My parents had me lie comfortably in bed. Then my mother placed a 20 cents coin on my naval, dropped some wax of a burning candle on the coin, and stood the candle on the flat coin. Then they inverted a small glass over the candle.
My sister, my mother, my father and me in the 1960s
Sifu Wong in a Shaolin kungfu pattern called “Single Tiger Emerges from Cave”
Find out what you need to know about aims and objectives before you begin your Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan training
Why do You Practise Kungfu?
One important reason why the standard of kungfu today is generally low is that many people practice kungfu without being aware of their aims and objectives.
If you ask someone who has practiced kungfu for many years why he has done so, it is not uncommon for him to have difficulty finding the real answers.
He may say he practices kungfu for self-defence, for health or for keeping alive a worthy tradition, but on deeper examination he often finds that those are not the real reasons.
This is evident from the fact that despite many years’ training, he cannot defend himself with the kungfu he has learnt, is not as healthy and fit as a typical kungfu exponent recorded in classical kungfu literature, and knows little about kungfu tradition.
The truth is that he has practiced kungfu without any clear set aims and objectives.
Sifu Wong and Goh Kok Hin in combat-ready poses. Sifu Wong attacks with a thrust punch and Goh Kok Hin responds with a tiger-claw
Making Your Training More Rewarding
Obviously, if we are clear about our aims and objectives, our training will be more rewarding. Not only we shall not waste time over unnecessary training, we shall also have a higher level of attainment.
For our purpose here, aims refer to general and long term aspirations, and objectives to measurable and more immediate needs.
There are three aims in all kungfu training:
Health and fitness.
For great kungfu like Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, there are two further aims:
The punch is a feign. As soon as Goh Kok Hin defends, Sifu Wong changes into a snap kick. As Goh Kok Hin strikes the attacking leg with a hand-sweep, Sifu Wong withdraws the leg and executes a side-kick with the other leg
Self Defence, Health and Fitness
Combat efficiency is the first and foremost aim of all kungfu training. The term kungfu, especially as used in the West, means martial art.
It is ironical, therefore, if you practice kungfu (including taijiquan) but do not know how to defend yourself with what you have learnt.
The second aim of kungfu training is health and fitness. Indeed, in our modern societies where fighting seldom happens, this benefit of being healthy and fit is more immediate and important than being able to fight.
But the crucial point is that you will derive the radiant health a typical kungfu exponent of classical kungfu literature manifests, only if you practice kungfu as a martial art. If you practice kungfu dance, you will only get the type of health benefit that a dance can give.
”Lifting Water”, which is an important force training method in Taijiquan, develops tolerance and perseverance as well as mental clarity
Character Development and Spiritual Cultivation
Kungfu training itself is a process of character development.
Qualities like tolerance, endurance and perseverance are developed if you practice kungfu the way past masters did, such as practicing “Golden Bridge”, “Small Universe” or “Lifting Water” everyday for years. Qualities like mental freshness and calmness are pre-requisite if you wish to be a good kungfu fighter.
Great kungfu like Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan is more than a mere fighting art. Both Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan expand the mind and leads ultimately to spiritual fulfillment.
Meditation, known as chan (zen) in Shaolin Kungfu and jing-zhou (silent-sitting) in Taijiquan, is an essential aspect in all levels of these two arts, although it is emphasized at the advanced levels, and although not many people today may be aware of this fact. Actually, the original aim of Bodhidharma and of Zhang San Feng, the First Patriarch of Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan respectively, when they first initiated the arts, was spiritual cultivation.
Taijiquan is an internal art excellent for combat as well as spiritual cultivation. Here Goh Kok Hin grips Sifu Wong’s arm.
Setting Measurable Objectives
Besides being clear of our general aims and consciously strive to achieve them, it is helpful to set measurable objectives for more immediate needs.
In order to attain the general aim of combat efficiency, we may set objectives like developing powerful arms and agile footwork, and mastering defence techniques against common attacks.
We may, for example, set aside one year to practise how to counter the various kicking attacks typically executed by Taekwondo and Siamese Boxing exponents.
To attain good health and fitness, we may train the Shaolin art of ‘One-Finger Shooting Zen’ or the Taijiquan art of ‘Three-Circle Stance’ everyday for six months as our set objectives.
After the six month period we can assess whether we have been successful in meeting our objectives by using measurable tests like checking whether we are now comparatively free from cold and fever which we used to have, and whether we can comfortably block our seniors’ attacks in sparring practice when previously we could do so only with difficulty.
Sifu Wong applies the Taijiquan technique “Cross-Hands Thrust Kick” which not only releases the opponent’s grip but also counter-attacks him at the same time.
Enriching our Lives
Setting objectives like increasing our endurance and perseverance levels from a minute to five minutes over a period of six months in zhang-zhuang (stance-standing) training can be readily combined with the objectives of developing internal force.
It will be useful to check whether we have also transferred these qualities to our daily life, such as examining ourselves to see whether our disciplined kungfu training has made us more tolerable to other people and more capable of facing demanding tasks.
The various meditation methods in Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan enhances our mind and spirit. (In eastern philosophy the mind and spirit are often regarded as one.) We may, for instance, set objectives like enhancing our mental clarity so that we can comprehend a problem in five minutes when it took half an hour in the past.
Hence, if we are clear about what we intend to achieve in our kungfu training by setting aims and objectives, we can not only get more benefits from our practice in shorter time, but also enrich our as well as other people’s lives.
My Tai Chi Chuan class is progressing to level 4 now which is called “Tactics of Pushing Hands”. We already worked through all the pushes from all sides in level 3.Which tactics should I now put special emphasis on in the Pushing Hands practice?— Sifu Leonard, Austria
Congratulations for doing well with your Tai Chi Chuan class.
You should put equal emphasis on all the tactics. After students have learnt the tactics individually, you may combine them in suitable situations.
There are four tactics to be taught in Level 4. Two are proactive tactics, which means a practitioner initiates the tactics. The other two are reactive tactics, which means a practitioner uses these tactics when reacting to an opponent.
The two proactive tactics are “continuous attack” and “confusing attack”.
In “continuous attack” a practitioner attacks an opponent continuously without giving the opponent a chance to counter attack. It is important to pay attention to “safety first” when implementing this tactic.
In “confusing attack”, a practitioner confuses an opponent when attacking him. He may, for example, pretends to attack the opponent’s top, then attacks his bottom.
The two reactive tactics are “instantaneous counter” and “interception”.
In “instantaneous counter” a practitioner counter attacks an opponent immediately after the opponent has made an attack, without give a chance for the opponent to recover from his previous movement.
In “interception” a practitioner intercepts an opponent’s attack, i.e. without letting the opponent complete his attack, and counter-attacks the opponent. It is a development from “immediate counter”.
In “immediate counter”, the practitioner counter-attacks as soon as an opponent completes his initial attack. In “interception” the practitioner counter-attacks before the opponent completes his initial attack.
It is useful to tell students the difference between a technique and a tactic. If you use “Fierce Dragon Across Stream” to strike an opponent, it is a technique. If you use this technique in a particular way to gain some advantage, it becomes a tactic.
For example, an opponent attacks you, and you ward off his attack. When he has recovered himself, you attack him with the technique, “Fierce Dragon Across Stream”.
Now, instead of letting some time pass, you counter-attack him immediately after he completes his attack, giving him no time to recover. You may use the same technique, “Fierce Dragon Across Stream”, but you apply this technique in a tactic of instantaneous counter. Your chance of striking him will be higher than in the earlier situation when you allow him to recover after his initial attack.
In the first situation if your opponent knows an appropriate defence technique, he can defend against your attack. In the second situation even when he knows the defence technique, he may be unable to defend against your attack because your use of tactic has put him in a disadvantageous position.
Suppose your opponent is skillful. Despite his disadvantageous position, he can defend against your attack. So you raise your tactic to a higher level. Instead of counter-attacking as soon as he completes his initial attack, you counter-attack in the midst of his attacking movement. You use the tactic of interception. Your chance of striking him is higher.
Suppose he is very skillful. He can defend against your interception. As soon as you complete your first counter-attack, or even before it, you continue with a second attack. You may use the same attacking technique, “Fierce Dragon Across Stream”, or you may use another technique. You chance of hitting him is much higher using this tactic of continuous attack than had you used the same two attacking techniques separately.
Or you may use the tactic of confusion. You pretend to attack his face with “Fierce Dragon Across Stream”, and when he tries to defend against your facial attack, you suddenly change your attack to his abdomen using the same attacking technique.
You should also teach your students the use of these tactics in their daily life. It is very important to inculcate in them that their uses must always be for good.
Do you have any recommendations for Pushing Hands exercises to train those tactics?
Before telling students about the tactics, it is helpful to give them a demonstration. Attack a student with a certain technique, and let him defend against it. Then attack him again using the same technique. He will be able to defend against it again.
Next, attack the same student using the same two techniques continuously. If you apply the tactic of continuous attack well, it is likely that he can’t defend against your second attack, though earlier he could when you used the same attacking techniques individually.
Explain to the class that the student could not defend against your second attack, not because he did not know the defence technique, but because you had placed him in a disadvantageous situation using the tactic of continuous attack.
In the unlikely event that your student could successfully defend against your continuous attack, compliment him. Explain that most other people could not defend against this tactic of continuous attack though they may be able to defend against the same attacks when applied separately.
After students have practiced Pushing Hands using the newly learned tactics, tell them that the same tactics can be used to enhance our daily lives. Emphasize that their use must always be for good, and never for evil.
Divide the class into groups, and ask them to discuss how to apply the tactics in daily life. Let each group describe their applications and let the others comment on them.
Grandmaster Wong applies the tactic of interception on Edwin
Can you please elaborate on their application in real life situations?
The tactic of continuous attack can be fruitfully used in an argument. Suppose a friend argues that eating ice-cream is not good.
Ask him a question. As soon as he answers, ask him another questions. Continue asking him questions to lead to a conclusion that he says eating ice cream is good.
Here is an example of using the tactic of continuous attack.
“Have you eaten any ice-cream?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Yes, but …”
“Well, it shows ice-cream is good. It brings you enjoyment. Were you sick after eating the ice-cream?”
“No, but …”
“You were not sick, and you enjoyed it. Ice cream is good for you.”
It does not matter what his answers are, though sometimes you may have to modify your subsequent question to suit the answer he has just given. Similarly, in combat it does not matter how your opponent responds to your attack, though you may have to modify your movement for your subsequent continuous attack.
For example, he may answer “No” to your first question.
Then you modify your next question.
“I’m sorry you have missed out something good in life. Most people have eaten ice cream. Do you think they enjoy it?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“You’re mistaken. They enjoy eating ice-cream or else they would not have eaten it in the first place. Were they sick after eating ice cream.”
“Er, I don’t know …”
“Of course they were not sick, and they enjoyed it. You might be an odd exception, but ice-cream is good.”
I recognized that I somehow executed the frequent closing pattern “One Finger Stabilizing Empire” differently to what I now found in all your videos.
I used to have the open palm of my left “One Finger Zen hand-form” facing me like in the chi kung exercise “Shooting Arrows” before advancing to the end position.
Is this incorrect or just a variation?
Should I change to the typical way?
What are the differences? The typical way feels more forceful to me now.
Your way of performing “One Finger Stabilizing Empire” is not wrong. It is a variation.
For convenience we shall call the way performed in “Shooting Arrows” the chi kung way, and that in “One Finger Stabilizing Empire” the kungfu way.
As a teacher is a model for his students to follow, it is advisable for you to change to the typical way, which has been established as the best way for its particular purpose. Hence you use the kungfu way when teaching “One Finger Stabilizing Empire”, and the chi kung way when teaching “Shooting Arrows”.
The main difference is that the kungfu way consolidates energy, whereas the chi kung way lets energy flow. Hence you feel more forceful when you perform the kungfu way, and more flowing when you perform the chi kung way.
Editorial Note: Sifu Leonard’s other questions will be continued at August 2015 Part 3 issue of the Question-Answer Series.
Ours is a chi kung and kungfu school, not a retreat for religious or spiritual curiosity or a centre for experimentation
In standing meditation a few weeks ago, I had a sudden “realization” that divine and enlightened entities were grand foci of energy and thought from countless beings. I “saw” Guan Yin Bodhisattva in her usual portrayal as a Chinese noblewoman, but when I “looked,” I did not see a soul, an intellect, or guiding consciousness behind the image; it just seemed like energy wearing a certain form.
— Fred, USA
I do not know enough to say whether divine and enlightened entities are grand foci of energy and thoughts from countless beings.
But I believe that the energy or consciousness of Guan Yin Bodh Satt is the energy or consciousness of Guan Yin Bodh Satt, and not of other beings.
If you did not see a soul or an intellect or guiding consciousness in Gaun Yin Bodh Satt, it was because you did not see it, and not because it was not there. In the same way when kungfu practitioners do not experience internal force, it is because they do not experience internal force, and not because internal force is non-existent.
For some reason, I thought of “borrowing” some of the energy from the collection of energy that made up the image of Guan Yin Bodhisattva and felt it enter my body. It felt very deep and subtle, making my body vibrate as I gave a blessing for the continued health and happiness of some friends and family members before “returning” the energy back to the collection of energy making up the image of Guan Yin Bodhisattva.
I would not recommend that you do this, not because it is not a good thing, but because it is unknown.
In our school we learn what has been established, and we are grateful to past masters for passing on their legacy to us. Even if we can accomplish just a small portion of their legacy, it is more than enough to fulfill our needs, which are good health, vitality, longevity, mental freshness and spiritual joys. We should not try to be smarter than them and commit the mistake expressed by the proverb, “fools rush in where angels fear to thread”.
This does not mean that we are not innovative, but we must know what we are doing, and also we must know our limitation. Many people have been very kind to use the expression, “tang fong cho kaik”, on me, which means “having reached the summit of present development and ready to create new limits”. Indeed, many things we practice in our school are innovations based on the legacy of past masters. But I am always conscious of my limitation, and am humble enough to accept it.
But you are venturing into the unknown, and you do not know what you are doing. You presumed that the energy was from Guan Yin Bodh Satt. But your presumption could be wrong. It could be some energy from an imposter, and you would be in serious risks, despite some initial benefit to tempt you.
Even if it were the energy of Guan Yin Bodh Satt, it would be disrespectful to freely take the energy from Her, and return it at will as if returning a cooking pot to a neigbour. You may request Guan Yin Bodh Satt to bless you or other people, but not take Her blessings or energy as if it were your right or your own property.
Using kungfu to handle other martial artists should not be difficult
The experience left me very curious about the nature of religion and spirituality. The idea of “everything is just energy” has been in my mind a lot lately; so, too, the curious idea that divine and enlightened beings just being collections of energy and thought. Earlier tonight, I did the same thing as before for the first time in a few weeks, “borrowing” energy for a blessing and then “returning” the remaining energy. It felt much the same, and I have to admit I felt very happy and at peace afterwards.
Remember that ours is a kungfu and chi kung school, not a retreat for religious or spiritual curiosity, and not a centre for experimentation.
What you did deviated from the aims and objectives of our school. You are still a student, though you have good potential to become a master one day. You are not in a position to experiment, not even in a position to make innovation.
Take heed of the saying, “First practice the established. Then respond to its variation.” You are still at the first stage of the saying. Leave the second stage to masters.
Excel in what is taught in our school. Learn, for example, to handle other martial artists comfortably and elegantly, no matter how ferociously they rush at you. Be healthy, live life joyfully and be an inspiration to others.
I wanted to ask for your wisdom and advice about these experiences. I would like to know if this is something I should avoid doing, or if I can continue, and if it would be all right, if you could share your insight regarding the “realization” I had that divine entities are “just” foci for energy and thoughts. Having no experience at all in a matter like this (I’m used to just practicing qigong and kungfu to cultivate my own energy, not using anyone else’s) I want to make sure I’m not doing any wrong or harm with this.
It is good that you ask me for advice. Many students who had great potential to be masters fell at this stage of their development. They reached a stage where they were far ahead of other students in other schools, a stage where they themselves had not imagined possible before, but without their knowing they were still far from what our arts could bring them.
Some became arrogant, and many started to experiment. But unlike you, they were not humble enough to ask for advice, or follow the advice real masters who had gone through the same path kindly gave them. These students thought they had accomplished much, when actually there was a lot more our arts could give them. It was a real pity seeing them fall.
Yes, this is something you should avoid doing. Not only it would waste a lot of your time and bring you no benefit, it could bring you much harm.
Yours was not a realization but an illusion. Divine entities have a distinct personality and identity of their own. They are not just foci of random energy and thought.
If you have no experience and have no competent teachers to guide you, it is not only unwise but dangerous to indulge in such matter. After all, does it really matter to your daily life that divine entities are just foci of random energy and thoughts, or have a personality of their own? Spend your time in more fruitful and meaningful activities, like enjoying meals with your parents, or enjoying tea yourself while admiring a sunset.