Kungfu is for fighting — using kungfu techniques, not kick-boxing or techniques of other martial systems
I want to learn kungfu.
— Ali, Pakistan
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
Many people want to learn kungfu, but end up learning kungfu forms or kick-boxing instead. Learning kungfu forms or kick-boxing is fine, but it is different from learning kungfu.
Before you learn kungfu, or any art, it is wise to know what that art is. This may sound trite or unnecessary, but it will not only save you a lot of time but also prevent you from much injury.
For convenience we may classify kungfu into three types: ordinary kungfu, good kungfu, and great kungfu.
Ordinary kungfu is for self-defence. There are also other arts of self-defence, like kick-boxing, karate and taekwondo. The main difference is their forms. Kick-boxing uses kick-boxing forms, karate uses karate forms, taekwondo uses taekwondo forms, and kungfu uses kungfu forms.
There are different styles of kungfu, like Shaolin, Taijiquan, Praying Mantis and Baguzzhang. Praying Mantis kungfu forms can be very different from Baguazhang kungfu forms.
About 90% of those who say they practice kungfu only perform kungfu forms. Strictly speaking they do not practice genuine kungfu because they cannot apply their kungfu forms for fighting. Many of them may not admit this fact. Some may not even realize it.
Of those who practice only kungfu forms and cannot use their kungfu forms for fighting, 70% of them perform their kungfu forms for demonstration. Past masters referred to such demonstrative kungfu forms as â€œflowery fists embroidery kicksâ€. 30% of them use kick-boxing or other martial techniques, but not kungfu, for fighting.
I would like to clarify that personally I have nothing against them. What and how they choose to practice is their right and business. Actually many of those who practice â€œflowery fists and embroidery kicksâ€ are very nice people â€“ the type of people I would like to have tea with, though I disagree with their concept and practice of kungfu.
So, kungfu is quite rare. Kungfu is for fighting. But the great majority of those who say they practice kungfu, cannot use their kungfu for fighting, though some of them are good fighters using kick-boxing or other martial techniques.
For every 100 persons who say they practice kungfu, only about 10 can use their kungfu for fighting. In our classification, we call this ordinary kungfu.
But kungfu is not just for fighting, though combat efficiency is its most basic requirement. Good kungfu contributes to health, vitality and longevity. While the percentage of those who practice genuine kungfu is low, only about 10%, amongst those who practice genuine kungfu, the percentage of good kungfu is high, about 70%. So about 7 out of the 10 practitioners of genuine kungfu have good health. They also have high moral values.
Amongst those who practice â€œflowery fists embroidery kicksâ€, the percentage of good health is also very high, about 90%, or about 63 of 70 practitioners. But they cannot be said to practice good kungfu, not even ordinary kungfu, because they cannot use their kungfu for combat.
Why is the percentage of good health amongst â€œflowery fists embroidery kicksâ€ practitioners, 90%, higher than that of genuine kungfu practitioners, 70%? It is because genuine kungfu practitioners engage in combat where they may tense their muscles to generate mechanical strength. Those who practice kungfu forms but use kick-boxing or other martial techniques for combat do not have good health because they sustain a lot of injury which is routinely left unattended to.
Great kungfu, which is not only for combat and good health but also for spiritual cultivation, is very rare. Only 1% of those who say they practice kungfu may have a chance to practice great kungfu.
Please take note that spiritual cultivation is different from moral cultivation, though they are closely related. A morally cultivated person is kind and considerate, but he may or may not believe in his own spirit. He may think that he is only a physical body. Spiritual cultivation is the cultivation of the spirit. A spiritually cultivated person is relaxed, peaceful and happy, and at high levels may have glimpses of Cosmic Realty.
Please also take note that spiritual cultivation is non-religious. Any person of any religion or without any professed religion can cultivate spiritually. Spiritual cultivation will enable a religious person to be a better follower of his own religion because it makes his religions teaching come alive.
To sum up, kungfu is rare. Most people practice only kungfu forms, and use kick-boxing or other martial techniques when they have to fight. Genuine kungfu may be ordinary, good or great. Ordinary kungfu is for fighting. Good kungfu is for fighting and good health. Great kungfu is for fighting, good health and spiritual cultivation.
It is a golden opportunity to be able to practice great kungfu. But because kungfu today is so debased, the public generally does not have a good impression of kungfu practitioners. They think of them as rough and aggressive. In fact it is the reverse. A genuine kungfu practitioner is gentle and considerate to others, relaxed and happy to himself.
I made a mistake regarding addressing family members, and of course it is not late to correct it. Chee Seen’s students, like Hoong Hei Koon and Lok Ah Choy, addressed Ng Mui, who was Chee Seen’s sijia (elder kungfu sister) as sipak (elder kungfu uncle) and not as siguma (elder sister of father).
Hence, you should address the senior female kungfu sister of your sifu (kungfu teacher) as sipak, and the junior female kungfu sister of your sifu as sisook, and not as siguma and sigujie as we have been doing. For example, the students of Leo (Sifu Leonard Lackinger) would address Joan (Sifu Joan Browne) as sipak. Joan’s students would, of course, address Joan as sifu.
We are proud (in a good way) that we are one of the very few kungfu and chi kung schools today that keep this tradition, which, amongst other benefits, contributes to our effectiveness in learning and in everyday life. It is rude to call your sifu by name, whether talking to him or her personally, or talking to other people. Your sifu, who has brought you good health and happiness, is always addressed, with a sense of pride and gratitude, as “Sifu” when talking to him or her, and as “my Sifu” when talking to others.
Would you consider gratitude a very important attitude?
– Sifu Sippe Douma, New Zealand
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
Yes, it is a very important attitude, more important and more influential than what many people think. It is also an attitude we cultivate and cherish in our school, and the evidence of its benefits can be clearly found if we examine closely.
I have led a very happy life, and I sincerely believe one very important reason is that I am always grateful. I am very grateful to all the divine beings who are so very kind to guide and protect me, my family and our school. I am very grateful to all my teachers who passed the wonderful arts to us. I am very grateful to all my students who have shown much dedication in their practice and have shown much respect and care for me. I am very grateful to you for taking time off work to show me beautiful New Zealand and for paying almost all my meals.
On the other hand, those who are ungrateful suffered the bad karma of their ungratefulness, though some may never realise it. It is helpful to remember that there is nothing religious or superstitious about karma. It means cause and effect.
The effect is immediate. When a person is ungrateful, he has resentment. The person he should be grateful to may not know it, but his resentment immediately makes him less peaceful and less happy than what he should be. Severe or prolonged resentment brings forth physical or emotional illness.
When a person is grateful, the immediate effect is that he is appreciative, resulting in his feeling more peaceful and happier than other times. It contributes to his good health and longevity. In the history of our school, I came across some people who were ungrateful, and they did not have good karma. Here is one example. A woman had cancer, but after learning chi kung from me, she recovered. Besides taking my regional course, she also took a special course from me, for which I charged her only US$1000 instead of the usual US$5000 for a personalised course. I also transmitted chi to her from a great distance for free to help her to recover. But she paid me 1000 Canadian dollars instead of 1000 US dollars, despite the organizer telling her and she knowing it beforehand.
Later her cancer relapsed. She phoned me asking whether I could continue to transmit chi to her. I replied that I would consider. Had she asked me again I would continue to transmit chi to her for free, despite her breaking her promise and showing ingratitude. But she did not ask again. Her breaking her promise of not paying the agreed sum might have affected her thinking. I later learned from the organiser that she died from cancer.
A priceless photograph showing Sifu Lai Chin Wah demonstrating the Kwan Tou. Sifu Lai Chin Wah was Sifu Wong’s first kungfu teacher. Sifu Lai was better known in kungfu circles as Uncle Righteousness.
Having a good master is definitely a tremendous blessing in kungfu, taijiquan and chi kung training. As mediocre instructors are so common nowadays – some even start to teach after having attended only a few week-end seminars – finding a great master is like finding a gem in a hay stack. Here are some guidelines to help you find one.
A LIVING EXAMPLE
A good master must be a living example of what he teaches. A kungfu master must be able to defend himself, a taijiquan master must have some internal force, and a qigong master must exhibit radiant health, as these are the basic qualities these arts are meant to develop.
A master of kungfu, taijiquan or qigong does not enjoy the luxury of many coaches in modern sports like football and athletics who often cannot dribble a ball or run a race half as well as the students they teach. There are also some kungfu, taijiquan or qigong instructors today who cannot perform half as well as their average students, but they are certainly not masters, although as a form of courtesy they may be addressed as such by their students, or the general public.
UNDERSTANDING DIMENSION AND DEPTH
Besides being skillful, a good master should preferably be knowledgeable. He should have a sound understanding of the dimension and depth of the art he is teaching, and be able to answer basic questions his students may have concerning the what, why and how of their practice. Without this knowledge, a master will be limited in helping his students to derive the greatest potential benefits in their training.
However, especially in the East, some masters may be very skillful, but may not be knowledgeable. This is acceptable if we take the term “master” to mean someone who has attained a very high level in his art, but who may not be a teacher.
The reverse is unacceptable, i.e. someone who is very knowledgeable, but not skillful – a situation quite common in the West. A person may have read a lot about kungfu, taijiquan or qigong, and have written a few books on it, but has little kungfu, taijiquan or qigong skills. We may call him a scholar, but certainly not a master.
Sifu Ho Fatt Nam demonstrating “One-Finger Shooting Zen”, a fundamental internal force training method in Shaolin Kungfu. Sifu Ho was the other Shaolin master whose teaching on Sifu Wong was decisive. To honour his two masters, Sifu Wong name his school Shaolin Wahnam.
SYSTEMATIC AND GENEROUS
The third quality of a master as a good teacher is that he must be both systematic and generous in his teaching. Someone who is very skillful and knowledgeable, but teaches haphazardly or withholds much of his advance art, is an expert or scholar but not a good master.
On the other hand, it is significant to note that a good master teaches according to the needs and attainment of his students. If his students have not attained the required standard, he would not teach them beyond their ability (although secretly he might long to), for doing so is usually not to the students’ best interest. In such a situation he may often be mistaken as withholding secrets.
The fourth quality, a quality that transforms a good master into a great master, is that he radiates inspiration. It is a joy to learn from a great master even though his training is tough.
He makes complicated concepts easy to understand, implicitly provides assurance that should anything goes wrong he is able and ready to rectify it, and spurs his students to do their best, even beyond the level that he himself has attained.
HIGH MORAL VALUES
The most important quality of a great master is that he teaches and exhibits in his daily living high moral values. Hence, the best world fighter who brutally wounds his opponents, or the best teacher of any art who does not practise what he preaches, cannot qualify to be called a great master.
A great master is tolerant, compassionate, courageous, righteous and shows a great love and respect for life. Great masters are understandably rare; they are more than worth their weight in gold.
Creating the right mental frame for the best learning.
An old photograph showing Sifu Wong (in his teens) performing a Hoong Ka kungfu set with his master, Sifu Lai Chin Wah, popularly known as Uncle Righteousness (middle behind in white T-shirt), looking on.
An art is best learnt in its culture. One remarkable difference between the culture of the East and the West is the respect shown to a master. In this connection I have little complaint because my students, from both the East and the West, generally show much respect to me. But I have met many Eastern masters commenting on the lack of respect, sometimes utter disrespect, shown to them.
Often it is because of the Western students’ ignorance of Eastern ways rather than their wilful discourtesy that their Eastern masters of chi kung or kungfu (including taijiquan) regard as disrespect. The following are some simple and helpful points both Eastern and Western students may follow to show the respect deservedly due to their masters.
ADDRESSING THE MASTER CORRECTLY
Sifu Wong (in his 40’s) with his master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, the third generation successor from the Shaolin Monastery
First of all you must know how to address your master correctly, something which many Western students are ignorant of. Never, never, never call your master by his name, especially if he comes from a Eastern culture. In some Western societies it may be considered personal and desirable to call your senior or even your boss by his first name, but in chi kung or kungfu culture it is considered extremely rude.
It is worthwhile to remember that your master is not your peer or equal. Your master is at least one, but usually many levels above you, otherwise he cannot and should not be your master. The proper way to address your chi kung or kungfu master is “Sifu”, which is the Cantonese dialect of the Chinese language for “Master”. The Mandarin pronunciation is “Shifu”.
Actually if a great master answers you when you call him “Sifu”, you are, not he is, honoured; it shows he accepts you as a student. I always felt greatly honoured whenever I called my masters Lai Chin Wah and Ho Fatt Nam “Sifu”, because they were two of the greatest masters I had found.
If your master’s surname is Chen, you should call him “Sifu”, or “Master” if you want to sound Western, but strictly speaking not “Sifu Chen” or “Master Chen” for that is the address the public, not his students, would call him. If you call him “Sifu Chen” or “Master Chen” you are distancing yourself from him.
Besides showing propriety in your address, you should also show propriety in your behaviour. Do not, for example, put your hand around him, pat him on his shoulder, or hug him — leave that to his wife, which following Eastern social etiquette is also only done in private.
When you stand or sit in front of or near him, hold yourself upright. You need not stand at attention like a private in front of his sergeant major, but you should not stand sloppily, with arms akimbo or hands in your pockets. When you sit do not cross your legs with a foot pointing at him, or expose your groins to him even though they are hidden by your pants.
It is only sensible that you should listen when your master speaks, especially if he is explaining some points. Yet, it is not uncommon to find some adult students (male as well as female) lying on the floor, sometimes with their hands folded at the back of their head, their eyes close and their legs open in an inviting position! This shows not so much a disrespect to the master, but an utter lack of good manners on the part of the students.
ENTERING AND LEAVING A CLASS
It is also bad manners to arrive at your class late. In the past in the East, late students would be asked to go home, or to leave permanently if they were late habitually. The logic is simple: the master has something invaluable to offer; if you come late you tacitly show that you do not value his teaching. But if there is a valid reason for your being late, you should first greet him from the door, walk quietly but briskly to him, respectfully wait if he is pre-occupied, then explain your reason and apologize.
On the other hand, you should wait patiently if the master is late — even for hours! If you think this is unfair, you are probably not ripe for great arts. There are stories of great masters who purposely arrived late, not for hours but for days, and then passed on their secrets to the few wise, patient students. Although it seldom happens nowadays, it will reflect a splendid grasp of chi kung and kungfu culture if you and your classmates stop whatever you are doing, stand up respectfully, bow and greet your master as he comes in.
Do not leave your class half-way. But if you have to leave early for some reason, explain that to your master before-hand and politely ask his permission. At the appointed time, ask his permission again, then bow and thank him before leaving. At the end of a class, the students should leave after the master, not before he does. However, if the master stays back for a considerable length of time, such as explaining some points to some students who stay behind to ask him, other students may leave first, after bowing to the master.
In the East, it is customary for the teacher to arrive last and leave first. Interestingly, it is often the reverse in the West. The teacher, Western in culture if not in race, often arrives the earliest, sweeps the floor and prepares cookies and drinks which he will serve during recess to his students, who will joke and laugh. At the end of the class, the teacher will stand at the door, shake the students’ hands and thank them for their attendance. He will then throw away the garbage his students have left behind if he still has energy left, and check that everyone has gone home before he closes the door.
OFFERING A CUP OF TEA
In Eastern culture it is always the students who offer drinks to the teacher. When you offer your master a cup of tea, it is preferable to do so with two hands. In Eastern societies, accepting a cup of tea and drinking it has deeper significance than merely quenching thirst.
In the past, even if someone had done you great wrong, if he or she offered you a cup of tea, usually while kneeling down and then knocking his or her head on the ground, and you, sitting down in front of other witnesses, accepted and drank it, it meant that you accepted his or her apology, were ready to forgive all the wrong, and would not take any action whatsoever in future.
The students should also offer a seat to the master, and the seat chosen is usually the best one available. If the master is not seated, the students should remain standing, unless the master asks them to sit down. If they dine together, the students would wait until the master has made his first move to eat or drink.
DON’T BE INSULTING
When your master is explaining or demonstrating something to you, listen attentively and respectfully. Do not bluntly say you already know what he is teaching, even if you really know. In chi kung and kungfu culture, doing so is not being straight-forward, it is being insulting — you are implying that the master does not know what he is doing.
I recall some occasions when my masters taught me something that I already had learnt quite well. Thanks to my training in Eastern culture, I followed their instructions faithfully although they appeared very simple and below my level then. Only much later did I realize that had I not follow these apparently simple instructions I would not have acquired the foundation necessary for advanced development.
Do not ever make the fatal mistake of telling a master what or how to teach you. This is not only unbecoming, it is also very foolish, for you will be denying yourself the very purpose why you need him. If he is a master, he knows best what and how to help you attain your best results; he is able to see your needs and development in ways far beyond your limited perspective.
FOR THE STUDENTS’ INTEREST
Some westerners may find the above-described master-student relationship odd, just as those accustomed to Eastern culture would find the behaviour of some western students unbelievable. It may be more surprising, especially for those who think they are doing the master a favour by paying him a fee to learn, to know that all these customs of respect for the master are actually for the students’, not the master’s, interest.
Someone who teaches kungfu dance or gentle exercise for a living will probably care more for your fees than your respect, but a master whose art gives you good health, vitality, mental freshness and spiritual joy actually does not care whether you respect him more or your dog. But those students who have experienced the wonderful benefits of genuine kungfu and chi kung will understand that the respect given to the master is not only a sincere token of appreciation to the master for sharing his art, but also constitutes an ideal psychological state for the training to take place.
While combat efficiency is important, Shaolin Kungfu is not just a fighting art but a complete programme of personal development
What does Shaolin Kungfu represent? What is the purpose of learning this style?
— Juan, Mexico
Shaolin Kungfu is the style of martial art first developed at the Shaolin Monastery in China, and is now practised by many people in various parts of the world irrespective of race, culture and religion.
Many kungfu styles branched out from Shaolin Kungfu, and some examples include Eagle Claw Kungfu, Praying Mantis Kungfu, Hoong Ka Kungfu, Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu and Wing Choon Kungfu.
In my opinion, shared by many other people, Shaolin Kungfu represents the pinnacle of martial art development. Indeed, as early as the Tang Dynasty in China more than a thousand years ago, the saying “Shaolin Kungfu is the foremost martial art beneath heaven” was already popular.
The main purpose of learning Shaolin Kungfu is to have a complete programme of personal development from the most basic to the most advanced levels. At the physical level, Shaolin Kungfu provides health, fitness, agility and vitality, besides the ability to defend ourselves. At the emotional level, Shaolin Kungfu gives us joy and tranquillity.
Shaolin Kungfu trains us to be mentally focused, and enables us to expand our mind. At its highest level, Shaolin Kungfu leads to spiritual fulfillment, irrespective of religion. Obviously, Shaolin Kungfu is not just a fighting art.
It is also significant to note that an important aspect of the Shaolin teaching is direct experience, which in this case means that a Shaolin disciple does not merely talk about good health and mind expansion, or just read up on spirituality, but actually experience these benefits. If he does not experience, according to his developmental stage, the appropriate results Shaolin Kungfu is purported to give, he should seriously review his training.
An important aspect of Shaolin teaching is direct experience. Shaolin practitioners do not merely talk about spiritual cultivation but actually experience it.
An important aspect in Grandmaster Ho Fatt Nam’s school is force training
Can Sifu please tell us more about how training in Sigung’s school was? How many students did Sigung teach and how many people trained together in a class?
When I met Sisook, Sigungs’s eldest son, recently in Penang he told us that a minimum requirement for beginners was to sit in the Horse-Riding Stance for a whole hour. Can Sifu please tell us more about the training procedure and the progression of the students during this initial phase? How does the outcome of this approach compare to our comparatively short, but powerful stance training sessions in regards to immediate and long-term effects?
We also learned about a technique that Sisook called “sleeping” which is lying between two chairs. Can Sifu tell us more about this technique?
Sifu Leonard Lackinger
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
Recalling my days training under my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, is both nostalgic and memorable. They were some of the happiest days of my life, and I am eternally grateful to my sifu for his kindness and teaching.
Much of the time at my initial stage of training, I trained alone. There were no other students, and my sifu was often not present. I went to my sifu’s house, which also acted as a temple, every afternoon to train. These were sessions of training, not learning.
Sometimes when my sifu was at home, he would watched me, nodded and then walked away. Sometimes he would say, “Very good, carry on!” Occasionally he would teach me a technique or two, and I would practice and practice it to become skilful.
At my sifu’s house there was a big altar where many statues of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Taoist gods were worshipped. Students voluntarily offered a joss stick — just one joss stick — at a main incense burner. Initially, due to my ignorance and arrogance, I never did that. I remember telling myself that I went there to learn kungfu, not religion. But after an intimate conversation with Immortal Li, for whom I am also eternally grateful, I always offered a joss stick before I started training.
Later I requested to train at my sifu’s house at night where some of my seniors also trained. There were not many of them, usually just three or four. My sifu was very selective in accepting students, though I was quite surprised that he accepted me quite readily. I was not only the youngest in kungfu age but also the weakest. My seniors literally handled me in sparring like a small boy, though later due to my dedicated training I could put up some semblance of defence.
It may be of interest to note that before I joined my sifu’s class I could beat all other martial artists in free sparring. But then I chose my sparring partners carefully, and I did a lot of homework before I sparred. With hindsight, this was the seed of my 30-opponent programme.
With foresight, this may inspire our family members in Shaolin Wahnam of the tremendous depth of kungfu. It was not without good reasons, and certainly not due to vanity but with much frustration, when I said that it was not difficult to beat other martial artists in free sparring — if our family members confidently used kungfu, and put in a bit of free sparring practice.
All my four sifus, who were patriarchs in their arts, placed a lot of importance on the Horse-Riding Stance. Some of my seniors came to class just to practice the stance. Indeed, most of the time of training of my seniors was either force training or combat application. There was not much time spent on set practice.
However, I did not have to spend much time on stance training with Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. This was probably because my stances were already good. My sifu asked me to show him the stances. He said they were good, and he moved on to other aspects of kungfu training. In fact he taught me Lifting the Sky before even asking me to show him the stances. After seeing my stances, he taught me One-Finger Shooting Zen. I still remember very well what he told me right at the start.
“One-Finger Shooting Zen is very important in Shaolin training,” he said. “It developed two of the most important of the Shaolin arts, dim mak and tiger-claw. Here we teach the best right at the beginning so that you have sufficient time to practice. Practice it every day. “
Right at the beginning of my kungfu career with Uncle Righteousness, I knew the Horse-Riding Stance was very important. “People in the past practiced only the Horse-riding Stance for at least a year or two,” I was often told, even by people who themselves did not know kungfu. But I did not know in details why was stance training so important. I only knew that the stances formed the foundation of kungfu, but did not know why.
Later I discovered that stance training sunk our chi to our dan tian. All kungfu movements were built upon stances. It developed internal force. Much later I discovered that it also developed mental clarity.
The Horse-Riding Stance in Sifu Ho Fatt Nam’s school was different from that in most other kungfu schools, like the one I learned from Uncle Righteousness. Sifu Ho Fatt Nam’s Horse-Riding Stance was higher and narrower, and was pyramid shaped. Uncle Righteousness’ Horse-Riding Stance was lower and wider, and was box-shaped.
Interestingly, the Horse-Riding Stance I learned from my other two sifus, Sifu Chee Kim Thong and Sifu Choy Hoong Choy, was also high and narrow. But at that time I thought of them as a particular Horse-Riding Stance for Wuzuquan and a particular Horse-Riding Stance for Wing Choon Kungfu, and not as Horse-Riding Stance in general. I associate the Horse-Riding Stance in general with the one I learned from Uncle Righteousness, as most other kungfu schools, especially Hoong Ka, also performed the stance in this way.
Thus, I was initially surprised why Sifu Ho Fatt Nam’s Horse-Riding Stance was quite high. But as a good student, I just followed what my sifu taught me.
Another important aspect in Grandmaster Ho Fatt Nam’s school is combat application
The higher and narrower Horse-Riding Stance was certainly more comfortable. It was later after I had started teaching that I discovered that the higher and narrow Horse-Riding Stance, which gave it a pyramid-shape, better facilitated cosmic energy to be accumulated at the dan tian, thus building internal force.
Students at Sifu Ho Fatt Nam’s school practiced individually, not in a group, i.e. each student practiced his kungfu on his own, though often they paired for sequence training or free sparring. They also arrived at and left the school at their own convenience, though they might leave at the same time to end the night session.
Students usually started their training with stances and One-Finger Shooting Zen. This was how I usually started my practice too, though my sifu did not spent time formally teaching me the stances. Next they practiced their own kungfu set, or part of it. Often they started with Four Gates, the fundamental set, or part of it. Then they got a partner to practice combat sequences or free sparring, or practiced force training on their own, like rubbing their arms against hard edges of pillars and Iron Palm.
Students seldom practiced a whole kungfu set, but go over again and again some sequences in the set. Hence, sequence sparring came naturally to us. Weapon training was seldom. The weapon most frequently practiced was the Ho Family Flowing Water Staff.
The training procedure I went through was “ku lian”, or “bitter-training”. Ku-lian i.e. enduring long hours of training before one could get a little benefit, is also the approach of most kungfu practitioners in the past as well as today, including those who practice kungfu forms for demonstration or bounce about in free exchange of blows. But my ku-lian certainly gave me more benefits than to most other practitioners.
In contrast, the training procedure of our students in Shaolin Wahnam is a big joke. We tell our students not to train too hard, least they over-train. We tell our students that achieving just 30% of what they achieved while learning in courses taught by me is sufficient to meet their needs. We tell our students to enjoy themselves — and we really mean it.
Yet, despite such enjoyment and less time in training, our students get more benefit than I got when I was a student. And by extension, as I was a very good student with a high level of attainment, our students have more benefits in less time than most other practitioners. Indeed, as some of our instructors have rightly commented, many of our students do not realise how very lucky they are.
Our approach is simply ridiculous in regard to both immediate and long-term effects. Students who practice stance training in my courses experienced internal force discernibly immediately after the training session. In my student’s days in Sifu Ho Fatt Nam’s school I would need about 3 months to experience similar internal force. With Uncle Righteousness who was famous for his fighting, and with Sifu Chee Kim Thong who was famous for his internal force, I did not feel any internal force after training the Horse-Riding Stance for many years!
Students who attended my courses would experience a chi flow on the very first day of their training. It took me more than a year training with Sifu Ho Fatt Nam for me to experience a chi flow, and it was nothing like what our typical students now experience. I did not have any chi flow training with my other sighs.
Internal force is the essence of good kungfu. Chi flow is the essence of any chi kung.
The long-term effects of our students are marvellous. After training in our school for a year, internal force enables our students to attain peak performance, chi flow enables our students to overcome illness, and to have good health, vitality and longevity.
Until I trained with Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, I did not experience any internal force earlier although I underwent stance training delicately. Hence, I cannot say that internal force contributed to my peak performance in my earlier years.
When I was sick in my earlier years, which was actually seldom, I had to take medication. I did not know that chi flow could overcome illness. More importantly I did not know that chi flow could prevent illness.
Once when I was injured by my siheng in free sparring, my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, who was an excellent traumatologist, applied medication on me for six months. If I had a chi flow immediately, I could have flushed out the injury in less than half an hour!
More significantly, chi flow gives our students good health, vitality and longevity. I have no doubt that my kungfu training, despite without chi flow in my earlier years, has contributed greatly to my good health, vitality and longevity, but I did not know the philosophy of how it worked as our students know it now. I also did not know in my student’s days how to transfer the benefits of my kungfu training to enrich my daily life, although it must have done so unknowingly, as our students now do.
The technique of lying between two chairs is called “tit pan kiew” in Cantonese or “tie ban jiao” in Mandarin, which means “iron-plank-bridge” in English. It is a very powerful internal force training method. My sifu taught me this method secretly. I don’t know whether he also taught other students.
When I accidentally placed my arm or leg on my wife, she complained that it was very heavy though I did not intentionally apply any force. This gave an idea how powerful “iron-plank-bridge” was.
Actually I almost forgot about this training method, though at the time when I learned from my sifu, I practiced it diligently every night. One reason is that we now have so many effective force training methods which are certainly more comfortable.