Category Archives: Lessons I've Learned

SHAOLIN WAHNAM KUNGFU — COMBAT SEQUENCE 1 “BLACK TIGER STEALS HEART”

(reproduced from http://www.shaolin.org/review/black.html)

Black Tiger Steals Heart

Black Tiger Steals Heart

The Big Mistake Concerning Free Sparring

Most martial art students today make a big mistake in their combat training. They think mistakenly that practicing free sparring is the way, often the only way, to combat efficiency. To a large extent this came about because many people were disillusioned with kungfu, as much of (so-called) kungfu practiced today is merely performing external forms with little or no combat training.

In genuine traditional kungfu, free sparing is never used to train combat efficiency; it is used to test combat efficiency, to confirm that the students can really fight. In other words, it is not a training tool — it is a testing tool. You engage in free sparing only after you know how to fight, not as a means to train you to fight.

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Practicing combat sequences is an essential link between form training and free sparring. In form training you develop the techniques as well as the skills that you will need for fighting. In combat sequences you methodically apply these techniques and skills in simulated combat. In free sparring you confirm that you can fight efficiently.

There are many stages and sub-stages in combat sequence training. “Black Tiger Steals Heart” is the first of a long series of combat sequences we use in our school, Shaolin Wahnam, to go through these stages and sub-stages systematically.

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Most students would under-estimate this combat sequence, thinking it is too simple. This would be a big mistake. The techniques are purposely made simple because the aim of training here is not to learn new techniques but to develop skills. If the techniques are complicated, the students would waste much effort remembering the techniques rather than focusing on developing skills.

Before you even make any move, you must observe the “four modes of preparation” — one, you must be mentally and physically ready; two, you access your opponent; three, you seek an advantage or an opening; and four, when the opportunity arrives you move swiftly.

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When you move in to attack, you must “ask the way”, i.e. you access your opponent’s strength and weakness, and you open the way for attack as well as prevent him from suddenly counter-attacking. You must also achieve “three arrivals”, i.e. the arrival of the heart, of the feet and of the hands.

The two fundamental skills developed here are right timing and right spacing. And the skills are applicable to both the initiator (attacker) and the responder (defender). In other words, when you move in to attack, you must move in at a right time, and space yourself at a right distance. A very common weakness is that the initiator is too far from the responder in his attack, in which case the responder can counter-strike immediately, without bothering to defend first.

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Single Tiger Poise Patterns

On the other hand, when you defend against an attack, you must move at a right time. A very common weakness defenders make is that they move back too soon. A trained attacker would exploit such a weakness. He would skip the first attack, treating it as a feign move, and follow in with a second attack, striking the defender at a time when he is still in the process of defending the first attack.

Nevertheless, now you should not worry about this skill of exploiting the opponent’s weakness. It is practised at an intermediate level. At an elementary level, your focus is to avoid making such weaknesses. If you can just do this, you would have done well. Many combatants today, including those at black-belt level, commit many such mistakes, thus throwing advantages to their opponents without their opponents having to make any effort.

You must also remember that all combat principles in Shaolin Kungfu are applicable to daily living. You should use these principles to enrich your life and the lives of others. For example you should not blame the traffic if you miss an appointment; it just shows you have not developed the skill of correct timing. You should not blame the waiter if you have been seated amidst a cloud of cigarette smoke in a restaurant; you have not developed the skill of correct spacing.

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MEDITATION: THE TRUE WAKENING OF SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit



Question

Meditation offers a variety of benefits. For example, it cultivates greater concentration and calm. But perhaps if too much attention is brought to studying the mental and physical benefits, the profound significance of meditation and practices may not be realized. How do we take the next step to the true wakening of spiritual consciousness?

Answer

Before answering the question, it would be fruitful to have a clearer understanding of the term “meditation”. It is derived from the verb “to meditate”, which implies thinking and intellectualizing.

Thinking and intellectualizing are in fact the very factors many schools of meditation, including the one I am most familiar with, advice their practitioners not to be involved in. In other words, if you wish to be successful, during your meditation you should not think and intellectualize!

Then, why is the practice called “meditation”? It is because of over-generalization as a result of mistaken translation due to insufficient understanding.

As “meditation” is a Western term, logically it originated from Western culture, referring to a practice employed by early Christian monks in their spiritual cultivation. It involved four processes, namely reading scriptures, praying to God, pondering over God’s words in the scriptures, and reflecting the Truth.

This morphological background is of much significance. It gives assurance to those persons who mistakenly believe that practicing meditation is against Christian culture, that early Christian monks practiced meditation to reflect on God.

Later, various other practices to reflect on God or on Cosmic Reality spread from the East to the West. Although internally they were different, externally they looked similar. Hence, the term “meditation” was used for all these practices.

It was also discovered that those who practiced meditation regularly had many mundane benefits, like reducing anxiety and improving metabolic processes. Soon scientific research proved that meditation enhanced physiological and psychological functions.

This background information enables us to look at both the question and answer with better insight.

We can better understand that if too much attention is brought to studying the mental and physical benefits, like greater concentration and calm, not only we may miss the profound significance of meditation, but also we may deviate from its original aim.

Indeed, this deviation or degradation has begun and has resulted in adverse effects on many practitioners often without their own knowing. Meditation is a training of mind or spirit, and thus mental and physical benefits like improved psychological and physiological functioning, are its bonus, not its goal.

However, not only many practitioners have neither obtained its goal or bonus despite practicing for many years, but instead they have obtained adverse effects! The first requirement as well as the first benefit of meditation is to be relaxed, yet many meditation practitioners have become more stressful the more they practice! Another tell-tale benefit of successful meditation is to be happy and free, yet many practitioners have become more gloomy and depressed!

Meditation, being a training of mind or spirit, is by itself non-religious. In other words, the same meditation exercise can be beneficially practiced by persons of different religions or of no official religion. Its successful practice will make its practitioners more devoted to their own religion, regardless of what religion it is, or more spiritually uplifted if they do not profess a religion.

Why is this so? Why is it that the religious will become more devoted to their religion, and the non-religious will be more spiritually-uplifted? It is because meditation enhances practitioners’ spirit. As all religions deal directly with the spiritual, the religious practitioners will find the teachings in their own religions come alive, whereas those who do not profess a formal religion will have their spirit enhanced. Hence, they become more caring, more compassionate besides becoming happier and more free.

Notwithstanding this, while we become more aware of the goal of meditation, which is the training of the spirit, it does not mean that we will neglect its more mundane benefits, like great concentration and calm, and better physiological and psychological functioning. These are desirable bonuses.

Why do so many practitioners become stressful and depressed when meditation is meant to make them relaxed and happy as bonuses? It is because they fail to realize that meditation is a cultivation of the spirit. Too much focus on studying the mental and physical benefits, ironically aggravates the problem because it further alienates practitioners from cultivating the spirit.

How does meditation, being a training of the spirit, bring physical, emotional and mental benefits? In other words, how does a meditation practitioner, for example, normalize his high blood pressure, overcome his aggressiveness or reduce his mental confusion by cultivating his spirit?

The real person is his spirit, not his body. It is his spirit that has a body, not his body that has a spirit. His spirit is the same throughout. His body, with its physical, emotional and mental manifestations, is changing all the time. Literally millions of his physical cells are disposed off from his body when he breathes out, and millions of new physical cells are born when he breathes in. He may be calm now, and agitated the next moment. Countless thoughts are going through his mind all the time.

When his spirit is well, it is manifested in a healthy body. If his spirit is sick or weak, it is manifested in his body too – physically, emotionally or mentally. To be well is the norm. It is natural to be healthy. To be sick is not. Hence, there is actually nothing fantastic in overcoming high blood pressure, aggressiveness and mental confusion. It is just restoring normalcy, returning to the natural state.

An important principle in traditional Chinese medicine is that all healing starts from the heart. In Chinese the “heart” includes the emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions. The physical dimension is the body.

I have applied this principle in helping thousands of people overcome so-called incurable diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, cancer, depression, phobia and serious viral infection. I do not have to use formal meditation. I use qigong practice and qigong healing, both of which include meditation.

In the same way, when a person is sick, he does not have to do formal meditation which will take a longer time for him to recover. He should see a doctor. By rectifying the bodily disorder, he can restore his spiritual health.

When a person is healthy – physically, emotionally and mentally – he is in a better position to aim for true awakening of spiritual consciousness.

This was in fact what Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of the Shaolin arts, did at the Shaolin Monastery in the 6th century. He found the Shaolin monks sick and weak, so he taught them the Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis to make them healthy and strengthen them so that they could better practice meditation to attain Enlightenment.

This is also what we do in our school, Shaolin Wahnam. We practice Shaolin Kungfu, Taijiquan or qigong to be healthy and strong so as to enhance our daily work and play as well as for true awakening of spiritual consciousness.

Awakening of spiritual consciousness has a very extensive range, but may be classified into three broad levels as follows.

At the lowest level, it is nurturing the spirit so as to be healthy in all the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions.

At the middle level, it is to strengthen the spirit to have mental clarity and internal force to attain peak performance in our work and play.

At the highest level, it is to expand the spirit into the Cosmos so as to attain spiritual joys and freedom, and eventually when we are ready to return to our Original State, called variously as Enlightenment, Returning to God’s Kingdom, Attaining the Tao or Union with the Supreme Reality.

But what should you do to take the first step to the true awakening of spiritual consciousness if you were not with Bodhidharma at the Shaolin Monastery or not learning from us in Shaolin Wahnam?

The first step is right understanding. You should understand what awakening of spiritual consciousness is and how to go about it. The second step is to set your aims and objectives. Then you should spend some time and effort to search for the best available teacher within your resources who can help you attain your aims and objectives. The fourth step, which usually takes the most time, is to respectfully practice according to what you teacher teaches. You should also periodically access your progress with reference to your aims and objectives. If you follow these five steps, you will be able to attain the best benefits in a relatively short time.

As mentioned above, awakening of spiritual consciousness has an extensive range. You should set your aims and objectives according to the level you are currently at, and progress accordingly.

If you, like many people today, are stressful, you should first nurture you spirit so that you can be physically and mentally relaxed. If, for example, you are still not satisfied with your work or family life, you should first develop mental clarity and internal force to improve your work and family life.

If you plunge straight to the most advanced level and hope to be enlightened over a summer vacation in an exotic land, not only this is unreasonable and unrealistic, but also you may aggravate your personal, work or family problems instead of enriching your life and the life of other people as spiritual cultivation is meant to be.


The above extract is reproduced from “Your True Nature: Wisdom of Living Masters” by Natalie Deane and Damian Lafont.

You can order this book from here or here.

REDUCING THE MIND TO ONE OR EXPANDING THE MIND TO ZERO

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit



Question

In the West, we spend our lives rushing around and looking outside, not within. Everything favours what the Buddhist call the “monkey mind.” How do we best break the cycle of stimulation and attraction to the outside world and turn our attention inward?

Answer

This is a problem not only with people in the West but with people all over the world who have been exposed to Westernization, which actually means most people living in our modern world.

It is important to note that this does not mean Westernization is harmful. Indeed, Westernization has brought incredible and unprecedented benefits to us. Without Westernization we would be unable to access information from the internet, view events of the world live over television, talk to friends across the globe over telephone, or even enjoy daily facilities we take for granted like tap water and electricity.

Westernization has made our world a golden age, against which the golden age of the Han Dynasty in China or of the Maurya Empire of India pales in comparison. We have to thank the West for all these benefits.

One prominent feature of Westernization is the worship of the intellect. Intellectuals are respected. It becomes desirable, even fashionable, to intellectualize. It becomes habitual for many people to intellectualize without their conscious knowing, and often without control and purpose.

Let us take an example of a person walking down a path in a park. When he sees some trees he starts his chain of thoughts as follows.

Ah, the trees are beautiful. The leaves are full and green, and flowers are in blossom. The last time I was here there were no flowers. No, not even leaves. It was winter. Pretty cold. But I had my warm clothing. Where did I buy that heavy overcoat? Was it in Paris where I brought the family for a holiday? No, not in Paris. It was a lovely holiday. Must start to plan another one. This time we should go somewhere else. Perhaps to the East. Or may be to Australia. Is Australia in the East? Hei, wait a minute, what am I doing here in the park? Ah yes, I am supposed to go through the park to the subway.

You may not have the same thoughts when walking through a park or going about your daily activities, but if you are like most people, you would have a chain of thoughts, often without your control and without purpose.

This involuntary habit of having uncontrollable, purposeless thoughts going in your head, regardless of whether you are rushing about looking outside or sitting quietly looking within, is not a result of Westernization, though its feature of worshipping the intellect may have aggravated it. Long before Westernization, the Buddha taught his followers to tame the “monkey mind”, and Chinese masters talked about the “mind like monkeys and intentions like horses”.

Before examining methods to break this cycle of stimulation and attraction, let us ask why we do it. It is wise to ask before embarking to pursue the methods. Literally millions of practitioners all over the world have wasted a lot of time, in matter of years, because they never asked this important question before they pursued meditation, qigong, internal kungfu or any course of spiritual cultivation and mind-body awareness.

We can even do better by going back further by asking why the Buddha taught his followers to tame their “monkey mind”, and why Chinese masters talked about the mind being monkeys and intentions being horses.

The Buddha taught his followers to tame the “monkey mind” so as to achieve the highest and most supreme attainment any being can ever attain, called Nirvanna or Enlightenment in Buddhist terms, or returning to God the Holy Spirit, attaining the Tao, union with the Supreme by people of different linguistic, cultural and religions background. It is the same most supreme achievement.

Why is taming a mind full of wandering thoughts necessary for this supreme achievement? It is because in Enlightenment, there are no thoughts. Once there is a thought, it would start the chain of processes to transform the transcendental Cosmic Reality to the phenomenal world.

In Christian terms, the transcendental Cosmic Reality is referred to as God the Holy Spirit, where there is nothing else but God. If there is something else, such as thought, the transcendental will be transformed into the phenomenal.

Interestingly, the latest science is saying the same Truth. Transcendental Cosmic Reality is an undifferentiated spread of energy or consciousness. It is mind, which creates thoughts, that transforms the transcendental into the phenomenal.

The word “phenomenal” means “of appearances”. Our phenomenal world appears to us the way we conceptualize it. For example, an electron, which makes up everything in the phenomenal world, will turn out to be a particle no matter how it is tested if the scientist testing it conceptualizes it as a particle; it will turn out to be a wave if he conceptualizes it as a wave.

The Chinese masters were saying the same thing, i.e. the mind is full of wandering thoughts, when they said that the mind was like monkeys and intentions like horses. Different masters might have different goals in taming these monkeys and horses, but all of them can be divided into two main categories, namely the supra-mundane and the mundane.

At the supra-mundane level, the supreme aim, like what the Buddha taught, was to attain transcendental Cosmic Reality, called by the Chinese as attaining the Tao or attaining Buddhahood.

At the mundane level, the primary aim was to attain a very high level of mindfulness so as to have better results in whatever they did. For these masters, the more immediate purposes lied in the scholarly arts and the martial arts, ie. to be better scholars or better warriors.

Understanding this legacy passed on to us by the Buddha and past masters, we are better set to find out the benefits and the methods of breaking the cycle of stimulation and attraction to the outside world.

If you are prone to uncontrollable, countless thoughts wandering in your mind, you become very stressful.

It will also sap off a lot of your energy, making you mentally tired.

The countless thoughts will distract you from focusing on any topic. You are mentally confused. Hence, your ability to think clearly will be much affected.

If you can control or eliminate these unwanted thoughts, not only you will overcome the above weaknesses, but also you will have their corresponding benefits.

Thus, you will be mentally relaxed, instead of being stressful. You will be mentally strong and fresh, instead of being worn-out and mentally tired.

You will have mental clarity and focus, instead of being mentally confused and distracted.

All these will enable you to do better no matter what you do. Take a minute to reflect on this. If you can clear the monkeys and horses from your mind, you will do better no matter what you do. When you eat your breakfast, you will enjoy better. When you read a book, you can comprehend better. When you present a proposal to your board of directors, you can achieve your objectives better.

There are many methods to tame the “monkey mind”, from which you can choose the best for your needs. But all these methods employ just one of two approaches, namely to reduce the mind to one, or expand the mind to zero.

An effective method is to use a qigong exercise called “Lifting the Sky”. If you do not know “Lifting the Sky”, you may use any dynamic (not static) qigong exercise, or any gentle physical exercise.

As you perform the exercise with its appropriate breathing, gently be aware of your breathing. When you breathe in, just be gently aware of your breathing in. When you breathe out, just be gently aware of your breathing out.

If you are not familiar with its breathing procedure, or if regulating the breath is not necessary in the exercise, then just be gently away of your movement. When you lift your hand, for example, be gently aware that you are lifting your hand. When you lower it, be gently aware that you are lowering it.

You may use the same approach, i.e. reducing the mind to one, sitting in a lotus or semi-lotus position, or simply sitting comfortably on a chair. Gently focus your mind on an object, which may be real or imaginary, inside or outside you.

For example, you may gently focus on your abdominal energy field inside your abdomen, or on an imaginary flower. Or you may place a real flower in front of you and gently focus on it.

Instead of focusing on an object, you may repeatedly recite, without thinking of its meaning, a mantra, a phrase from your scripture or any series of sounds. Or you may mentally count from 1 to 10 and keep repeating the process.

For example, you may repeatedly recite “a mi tor for” (which is the Chinese pronunciation for Amitabha Buddha) or “the quick, brown fox jumps over a lazy dog” (which some of you used when you learned how to type).

The underlying principle of this reducing-to-one approach is to gently focus your mind on one thought to keep out all other thoughts.

The other approach, expanding the mind to zero, is more simple and direct, but is usually more difficult for most people.

You can adopt any comfortable position. Standing upright and be relaxed, or sitting in a lotus or semi-lotus position is excellent for formal practice. Then just keep your mind free from any thoughts. As soon as a thought comes into your mind, gently throw it out without fuss and without question.

Many people are in the habit of saying they can’t do it. What they actually mean is that they are too lazy to give it a try.

It is simpler not to think of anything than to think of anything. You just don’t do it. If you are in the unconscious habit of having countless wandering thoughts in your mind, this may not be easy, though it is simple, but it certainly can be done.

Suppose you are at one side of a busy street. Which is simpler, to cross the street or not to cross the street? You are at the bottom of a talk tree. Which is simpler, to climb the tree or not to climb? Of course, not to cross or climb is simpler, and in these two cases it is also easier, than to cross or climb. Not to do anything is simpler than to do anything.

It is the same with thinking. Not to think is simpler than to think.

It is also important to explain further this skill of not thinking. Some people have the mis-conception that if they don’t think, they may become a moron! This is certainly not true, and may be due to the influence of the worship of the intellect in Western culture.

Not to think is categorically different from the inability to think. Here, one chooses not to think, not that he is unable to think. In fact, when he has this skill of not thinking by choice, when he wants to think, he can think more efficiently.

When a person is troubled by many thoughts, he is mentally confused. When he clears his mind of all thought, he attains mental clarity. Definitely a person with mental clarity thinks more efficiently than one with mental confusion.

Similarly, when we have the skill of clearing our mind of all thoughts, i.e breaking the cycle of stimulation and attraction to the outside world and turning our attention inward, it does not mean that we would ignore the outside world, or regard the inside world as more important than the outside. In Zen terms, we should not be dualistic, thinking that if one side is black the other side must be white.

If your wife or girlfriend has dressed up beautifully for you, for example, it is for your interest and hers, that you should pay attention to the outside world. You should not turn inside, and say, “No, no beautiful woman. I must clear her from my mind!”

The wonderful skills of attaining a one-pointed mind or of expanding into the Great Void, like all other skills, must always be used for good – for your own good as well as the good of other people.


The above extract is reproduced from “Your True Nature: Wisdom of Living Masters” by Natalie Deane and Damian Lafont.

You can order this book from here or here.