An old photo showing Grandmaster Wong performing “Taming Tiger”
Early next morning the Venerable Chee Seen took Li Chooi Peng to a training hall. He stretched himself on the floor, his body straight, his head facing downward and his back facing upward, supported only by his toes and his palms. Then he pressed up and down numerous times. Li Chooi Peng followed what her sifu did. Everyday they increased the number of times of pressing up and down gradually.
After about a month of daily practice, Chee Seen changed his palms into fists, with his tiger-mouths (i.e. the parts between the thumb and the index finger) facing forward. After another month, he changed his fists into three fingers each hand, using his thumb, his index finger and his middle finger, with his thumb behind. The small girl followed her master.
After a few months, Chee Seen, in the same poise, hopped to the front and then to the back, using only his fingers and his toes, and keeping his body straight. The student followed what the master did. After a year, Li Chooi Peng was very forceful in her fingers.
(In our school, the stationary exercise is called “Taming Tiger”, and the mobile exercise is called “Jumping Tiger”.)
The Venerable Chee Seen was very happy. Then he transited to Li Chooi Peng the techniques of attacking, defending, rising, falling, shooting and swallowing.
Li Chooi Peng was very intelligent. Once she saw the kungfu movements, she would not forget.
This clever girl thought to herself, “Sifu only taught me alone, and let me train individually. This must be sifu’s secretive art. How can I not know its origin?”
So, one day after training, she asked Chee Seen, “Sifu, the kungfu movements that I have learnt, where did they come from?”
Hearing this, Chee Seen laughed loudly. “You’ve asked well. But it is usually difficult to examine the origin of kungfu. Since ancient time, scholars generally do not regard martial art as something that is presented in the grand hall (i.e. not as a topic for serious investigation). Thus they do not spend time and effort to examine and record it.
“Let’s take what you are now learning, the chin-na techniques of Eagle Claw. “
(“Chin” means hold, and “na” means grip. Chin-na is a special way of gripping an opponent to stop his energy flow, to tear his tendons or to dislocate his joints. In some chin-na techniques, an exponent may tear off the limb or the head of an opponent.)
“Although I spent some time to investigate its source,” Chee Seen continued, “what I know is from what I have heard. I have no way to determine the truth. As you have asked, I am glad to tell you.
“According to legends, this type of techniques was invented by our First Patriarch Bodhidharma (or Da Mo in Chinese). Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Monastery in Henan, and meditated for nine years in a cave. On day Guan Yin Bodh Satt (the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion) appeared, with millions of lotus flowers. Therefore Bodhidharma attained the truth of Buddhism.
“He returned to the Shaolin Monastery to transmit the truth. But in his sermons, whenever he explained sutras, the monks were weak, and some yawned. So our First Patriarch told the monks that although the physical body is not important, before one attains Enlightenment, before his personal spirit merges with the Universal Spirit, he has to strengthen his physical body. Thus, before realizing Nature, it is necessary to be healthy. When the physical body is strong, the spirit can more easily attain the Way.
“Bodhidharma said that the monks were weak and sickly. He wanted to teach them an art that could make them strong and healthy, to let them practice daily. So he invented the Eighteen Lohan Hands. This was the beginning of Shaolin Kungfu.
“There were many tigers around the Shaolin Monastery which harmed the local people. Bodhidharma often descended the mountain to tame the tigers. One day he caught a baby tiger. He brought the baby tiger back to the monastery and trained it daily. When it grew up, Bodhidharma let it guard the monastery, and named it ‘Night Guard Protecting the Mountain’. From his experience, Bodhidharma invented ‘Piercing Tiger Sword’ and ‘Taming Tiger Fist’.
“Oh, I have digressed. This chin-na techniques of Eagle Claw were based on the techniques of dotting energy points (i.e. when energy points were touched in a seemingly gentle manner, an opponent lost his ability to fight further). Bodhidharma transited the techniques generations after generations. In the Sui Dynasty, they were transmitted to the Venerable Lo Choe, and Lo Choe transmitted to Seen Ho, and Seen Ho to Yun Meng. In the Yuan Dynasty, Yong Yeit improved the techniques, and transmitted them to the Kok Yun (pronounced as ‘Jue Yuan’ in Mandarin).
“The Venerable Kok Yun was very keen in Shaolin techniques, and learned all he could. He met excellent masters like Li Mong Sau and Pak Yuk Fong (pronounced as ‘Bai Yi Feng” in Mandarin, the First Patriarch of Wuzuquan). Later Li Mong Sau and Pak Yuk Fong became monks at the Shaolin Monastery, and were intimate with the Venerable Kok Yun, practicing kungfu together. Since then, most of martial art secrets came from the Shaolin Monastery.
“When chin-na techniques of Eagle Claw were spread to the public outside the monastery walls, they were very popular in Fujian Province. The Venerable Kok Yun further improved the Eagle Claw chin-na techniques. But later martial arts became unpopular, and Eagle Claw chin-na techniques were almost lost, but were maintained in the Shaolin Monastery. During the time of the Ming Dynasty, Li Kheng Chu and Cheong Chong Kai (pronounced as ‘Zhang Zhong Xi’ in Mandarin) learned these techniques, but they rarely transmitted the techniques to other people.
“During the time of the Ming Emperor Jiajing, when Japanese pirates attacked our south-eastern coasts, Cheong Chong Kai joined the army of General Qi Ji Guang, and taught Eagle Claw chin-na techniques to the army. This was the second time Eagle Claw chin-na techniques were transmitted to the public.”
The Venerable Chee Seen realized that he was telling a pupil who was only about twelve years old. He asked, “Do you understand what I have said?”
Li Chooi Peng blinked her eyes and answered, “Sifu, I understand. But how does sifu know these stories?”
“These stories were told to me by my sifu, sisooks and sihengs.”
(“Sifu” meant ones kungfu teacher, “sisook” was the younger kungfu brother of ones teacher, and ”siheng” meant ones elder kungfu brother.)
Chee Seen continued, “The most important aspect for you is to understand how to apply these techniques in a marvelous way. These chin-na techniques are different from fist techniques, different from staff techniques. Their essence is to use the opponent’s strength in a marvelous way. When you are in combat, if your opponents are stronger than you, don’t match your strength with theirs.
“You use their strength to defeat them in a marvelous way. Kungfu focuses much on the use of strength. A person may be strong like a buffalo, but if he does not use strength skillfully, you can defeat him.
“Its explanation lies in ‘gaining advantages’ or ‘not gaining advantages’. If you hold sometime and when you gain advantages, you won’t feel difficult even after a hundred miles. If you don’t gain advantages, after a few steps you will be sweating and out of breadth.
“Nevertheless, besides using ‘miraculous strength’, an exponent of Eagle Claw chin-na techniques must understand a persons bone structure and energy flow system. A person’s bones and tendons have their definite position. Energy flow also has its definite meridians. Energy flows first, then blood follows. Wherever energy flows to a particular energy point, blood will flow there. This follows a definite system.
“If energy flow and blood flow are blocked, or if bones and tendons are out of position, it will affect the whole person. If you understand this explanation, then the application of Eagle Claw chin-na techniques will be clear.
“When we subdue an opponent, we do not use our fists, and also do not use our palms. We depend on our thumb, our index finger and our middle finger. There is a difference between yin-hand and yang-hand. When the palm faces skyward, and we move from below upward to meet our opponent, this is yang-hand. When our palm faces the ground, and we move from above downward, it is yin-hand.
“Irrespective of whether we use yin-hand or yang-hand, as soon as we are in contact with an opponent, we use our thumb, index finger and middle finger to grip together, like gripping something. In one move, we grip an important part of an opponent’s body, generate our internal force and subdue him.
“Hence, in this method the effective result comes from our three fingers. We must train well in the kungfu of the three fingers. Most people use their power on their fists and palms, but it is insufficient to use their power on their fingers. It is because the strength of the fingers is limited.
“To train this method, first we have to develop force at the fingers. Then we train chin-na (or holds and grips). Once we surpass this difficulty, naturally our hands will follow our heart (i.e. our techniques will follow our intention). From tomorrow onwards, you will learn and understand the tendons and meridians, and the energy points of a person.”
Li Chooi Peng was very happy. She knelt down to thank the advice of her sifu.
Every morning at the Shaolin Monastery, the Venerable Chee Seen would wait up Li Chooi Peng for kungfu training. Chee Seen has practiced kungfu for decades, and when he taught his students he had a systematic way of teaching. For every movement, he would explain it clearly. He was also very strict. Every pattern was performed by his students correctly with picture-perfect form.
They trained everyday. After a year, Li Chooi Peng’s basic force training was remarkable. Chee Seen knew that basic force training was very important. It was the foundation from which all future kungfu development depended. Li Chooi Peng was young. She did not have any irrelevant thought, and just focused on her training. After two years, her kungfu progress even surpassed Chee Seen’s expectation.
Chee Seen was very happy. He started to teach her chin-na (which was a special way of gripping) using Eagle Claw.
For a start, Chee Seen placed two jars on the ground, and asked Li Chooi Peng to grip them with her thumb, middle finger and fourth finger, and walk about. Li Chooi Peng could just walk a few steps, her fingers became weak, and her wrists became numb. But because Chee Seen was watching, she dared not let the jars down.
After a month, she noticed that her fingers and wrists had become strong. She could lift the jars without much effort. After another month, not only she was not tired, it was like holding two clumps of hay which she did not take any notice at all.
Chee Seen then added some stones into the jars. Gradually the jars were full of stones. After a while, Li Chooi Peng could carry the jars easily and ran about freely in the garden of the monastery.
Chee Seen was very glad seeing that Li Chooi Peng could endure the bitter training. Without saying anything, he changed the jars with stone-chestnuts and asked Li Chooi Peng to continue training. The stone-chestnuts were made from big pebbles and each was more than 10 katis heavy. (Each katy was about 500 grams.) There was nothing to hold the hands on. Everywhere the stone-chestnuts were smooth. As soon as any ordinary person tries to hold one, it would slip away.
It was more difficult to hold stone-chestnuts than jars filled with stones. But Li Chooi Peng persisted, and soon she could hold them quite easily. Her teacher then changed heavier stone-chestnuts, each weighing about 40 katies. After some time she could lift the heavy stone-chestnuts with her hands, and could run many steps without the stone-chestnuts slipping out.
One day Chee Seen said, “Very good. It is difficult now to find anyone to have the power of your fingers.” Now I’ll teach you how to use your finger power. The art of finger kungfu is to use an opponent’s force miraculously. When in combat, it is often not based on valour and strength to beat an opponent. When an opponent is very strong, even if it is possible to use strength to beat him, it is demanding and undesirable. It is better to beat him in miraculous ways.
“By miraculous ways, I mean to use the opponent’s strength to beat him. This is what people say four taels to counter a thousand katies.
(In the past, 1 katy was divided into 16 taels, but in China today, following the metric system, 1 katy is divided into 10 taels.)
“When you look at a weighing balance, the weight is only a small portion that balances what is to be weighed. This is what is meant by four taels to counter a thousand katies. What you are learning now about chin-na using Eagle Claw, is this type of miraculous kungfu. Using just three fingers you can cause your opponent to fall, as if hit by a staff. This is the reason why I ask you to carry jars and stone-chestnuts.
“You just think. Using your three fingers to grasp jars and stone-chestnuts, it is to focus your force at the fingers. There are rings at the tops of jars, so you can make use of the rings when using your force. But there are no rings at the stone-chestnuts. Yet you can lift them up. It is not feasible to calculate how forceful are your fingers. When they are used on a person, it won’t be light.
“I shall now explain to you the power of your fingers. Every person has many tens of katies of strength. Just take 100 katies as an example. There are many people with 100 katies of strength. But those with 100 katies of strength at their arms are fewer. Those with 100 katies at their fists are fewer still. Those with 100 katies of strength at their fingers are very few indeed.
The philosophy of receiving the power is similar. Those who receive 100 katies from an opponent will retreat. Those who receive 100 katies of strength from an opponent’s arm will fall. Those who receive 100 katies of strength from an opponent’s fist will be injured. Those who receive 100 katies of strength from an opponent’s finger will die or be paralyzed. Hence, this is the reason I told you to train finger power all this time.”
After a pause, the Venerable Chee Seen continued. “Now you have power at your fingers. Tomorrow I’ll teach you more training methods, and then I’ll teach you the techniques to use your finger power.”
There were two Shaolin Monasteries under heaven. One was in the Central Range of Song Mountain in Henan Province. It had a long history, and at the end of the Sui Dynasty and the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, it was famous in the four four seas because of “thirteen monks with staffs saved the King of Qin” (who later became the first Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty). The Shaolin Monastery was conferred by imperial degree as the “First Monastery Under Heaven”.
Another Shaolin Monastery was built during the middle of the Ming Dynasty in Quanzhou of Fujian Province on Nine-Lotus Mountain. At that time, the areas around the south-eastern sea were frequently attacked by Japanese pirates who plundered ships, killed citizens and robbed wealth, causing great disasters to the people and instability to the country.
About the time of Emperor Jiajing (who ruled from 1521 to 1567), the Governor of Guangdong and Guangxi submitted a report to the Ming emperor, requesting monks from the Shaolin Monastery to subdue the pirates. The Venerable Yuekong led Shaolin monks, together with General Yu Da You and General Qi Ji Guang, defeated the pirates. To honour them, Emperor Jiajing built the southern Shaolin Monastery.
(There were actually three Shaolin Monasteries, a northern monastery at Henan, and a southern monastery at the City of Quanzhou in Fujian. These two monasteries were known to the public. The third monastery, which was secretive, was built by the Venerable Chee Seen on Nine-Lotus Mountain. Both Quanzhou and Nine-Lotus Mountain were in Fujian Province.)
The Venerable Chee Seen and Li Chooi Peng arrived at the southern Shaolin Monastery on the Nine-Lotus Mountain. At the main gate was a poetic couplet with a head line and a end line. The two lines of the poetic couplet were as follows:
Going out of the gate, at dawn see the face of the emperor
Entering the monastery understand the heart of ancient Buddha
Behind the main gate was the main hall, known as Great Majestic Precious Hall. There were two poetic couplets in the main fall. The two lines of the first poetic couplet were as follows:
Heroes are the first
Champions know no parallels
The two lines of the other poetic couplet were as follows:
There is no need for literature to meet the lord
All depend on martial art to repay the king
Li Chooi Peng was enchanted by the monastery. She could read what was written in the poetic couplets, but could not understand the meaning. So she asked, “Sifu, what do the lines of the poetic couplets mean?”
The Venerable Chee Seen was taken aback. The poetic couplets were written in earlier generations, and although there was no explanation for all the individual words, each person could interpret the poetic couplets differently.
The first line of the first couplet, “Going out of the gate, at dawn see the face of the emperor” did not refer to the face of the Qing emperors, but to those of the Ming. In the end line, “Entering the monastery understand the heart of ancient Buddha”, “the heart of ancient Buddha” did not refer to government aims and aspirations, but to the task of “overthrowing the Qing and restoring the Ming”.
The poetic couplets inside the main hall were strange. In a Buddhist monastery, they should be such phrases like “Clear Heart See Nature” or “Cultivate and Understand Zen Secrets”, but why were they singing praises of heroes and champions, and martial art? Actually there were secrets hidden in the open. The line “All depend on martial art to repay the king” did not mean to protect the the Qing empire, but to restore the Ming.
But how would Chee Seen explain the secrets to a small girl? After some thought, he gently stroke the two goat-like plaits of hair behind Li Chooi Peng’s head and kindly said, “After a few years, when you have grown up, sifu will then tell you.”
Li Chooi Peng nodded her head. Chee Seen was very please and led her forward.
After the main hall, there was another hall. On top was written “Red-Flower Pavilion”. There was much history behind the words.
When the Qing defeated the Ming, a Ming general Zheng Cheng Gong retreated to Taiwan and organized Heaven-Earth Society with the purpose of overthrowing the Qing and restoring the Ming. They met at Red-Flower Pavilion.
The first patriarch of Hoong Moon, which meant Dynamic Gate, and was a gigantic secret society dedicated to overthrowing the Qing, the Venerable Tat Chong who gathered a lot of heroes and kungfu experts, named one of the halls in his temple “Red-Flower Pavilion”.
Behind Red-Flower Pavilion was a back hall. On top was hung a plaque with four words, “Restore Right Remove Evil”. Ordinary people might think the plaque glorified the tremendous power of the Buddhist faith, but its hidden meaning was to restore the Ming Dynasty and remove the Qing Dynasty.
In the City of Wei Yang, there was a sundry shop. The shop wasn’t big, but on this street there was only one sundry shop, which sold oil, salt, sauce, vinegar, joss sticks, candles to the people. Hence the business was prosperous.
But the owner soon died, and his wife, Madame Lau, though young at 30, had to manage the shop besides looking after her 2-year old daughter. All the neighbours were sympathetic to the mother and daughter, especially when Madame Lau was honest.
Soon six years passed. Madame Lau was full and warmth (meaning she had no worries about her livelihood) and had a small saving. But “every family had a sutra that was difficult to recite” (which meant that there was difficulty for everybody). What made Madame Lau worried was her daughter, Li Chooi Peng.
Li Chooi Peng was a young girl of eight, clever and bright. Her two big eyes were like sparkling water. Neighbours used to tease her saying that she would one day become the owner of a shop. Of course Madame Lau treated her daughter as “on top of the head, afraid it would be broken, in the mouth, afraid it would melt” (i.e. treasured her dearly).
This little girl, who was lovable by anyone who saw her, was often sick. Every year she would be sick a few times. Once she was sick, her whole body would be burning, and she would be fainting and semi-unconscious. Madame Lau had her seen countless doctors, but whatever medicine she took like water flowing over pebbles, without any use.
A year ago, Madame Lau had taken vegetarian food for three days, and requested spiritual help from temples for help and protection, even shortening her own life span to overcome the disaster of her child.
In front of Guan Yin Bodh Satt (i.e. the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, the most popular deity of the Chinese), she knocked her head on the ground until her head bled. She sought the advice of Bodh Satt in the form of “chim” (which was holding a container of numerous sticks and shook until one stick fell off from which an explanation could be obtained).
The explanation contained the following words.
It’s not in ordinary world
The wrong lies in creation
Whoever aim for peace
Seek one dedicated to cultivation
Madame Lau did not understand the explanation. So she asked someone from the temple to explain the divination, who told her that if she wanted her daughter to be healthy and happy, she must get a Buddhist monk or a Taoist priest as a god-father.
Madame Lau remember the advice, but for a year she could not find someone whom she could trust her daughter with.
On Cheng Meng day (“Cheng meng” means clear and bright, but it is a certain day of the year when the Chinese go to their parents’ tomb to pray) Madame Lau went with her daughter to pray at the tomb of her husband. On their return, Li Chooi Peng fell down.
Madame Lau sought the help of doctors, but every doctor shook his head and said that Li Chooi Peng would be crippled. Madame Lau was very sad.
One day there was a monk at her door. He face was glowing with white beard under his chin. He radiated kindness that people found welcoming.
Madame Lau was a pious person, so she took some money for the monk. The monk declined her money and said.
“Generous donor (which was a Chinese term usually used by monks and priests for the public), I can see some problem written between your eye-brows. If you don’t mind, can you tell me your problem?”
Madame Lau was surprised, but she told the monk about the problem of her daughter.
“May I see your ‘thousand gold’ (meaning your daughter)?”
Madame Lau then led the monk to an inner room where her daughter was.
The monk asked Madame Lau to warm some rice wine. He then poured some medicated powder to the warm wine. He applied the medicated wine to Li Chooi Peng’s injured leg, and circulated the leg. Then, in an instant, he pushed the girl’s foot into the socket of her bones. The girl gave a cry.
Madame Lau was worried. She beg the monk not to continue with his treatment.
The monk said, “Your thousand-gold is cured. There is no need for further treatment.”
He then asked Li Chooi Peng to stand up and slowly walked about. At first she hesitated, but the monk encouraged her. After she could walk freely, both the mother and the daughter cried. Li Chooi Peng was supposed to be a cripple, yet the monk cured her in just a few minutes.
The mother knelt down to thank the monk. She asked him what his name was.
“I am Chee Seen, and I come from the Shaolin Monastery.”
(“Chee Seen” is in Cantonese pronunciation. In Mandarin, it is pronounced as “Zhi Shan”. The written Chinese words are the same, and they mean “Extreme Kindness”)
Madame Lau was shocked. Right in front of her was the great Venerable Chee Seen from the well known Shaolin Monastery. She remember the divination from Guan Yin Bodh Satt, and begged the Venerable Chee Seen to accept Li Chooi Peng as his god-daughter.
Chee Seen said, “I have long dedicated myself to the Buddhist order. How can I become a god-father of your ‘thousand gold’. But I can accept her as a disciple, and we return to the Shaolin Monastery. What is the opinion of generous donor?”
Madame Lau was keen to have the Venerable Chee Seen accept Li Chooi Peng, so she only answered, “Very good, very good indeed.”
Chee Seen was silent for a while, then said, “Before accepting your ‘thousand gold’ as a disciple, I must tell generous donor this. As my disciple, I shall transmit to her what I have learned, but she must be at the monastery for a few years. When she is successful, she can then return home.”
Madame Lau asked her daughter to kneel before Chee Seen and knock her head on the ground to perform the ceremony of being a student. Then Chee Seen and Li Chooi Peng returned to the Shaolin Monastery.