The big irony is that many martial artists are unhealthy and are unable to defend themselves. Here Evelyn and Sifu Leonard apply Shaolin Kungfu in combat.
“The big irony is that many martial artists are unhealthy and are unable to defend themselves despite spending many years training a martial art! Not only they injure themselves in free sparring and their injuries are routinely left unattended to, the way they train is usually detrimental to both their physical, emotional and spiritual health. Many people may be surprised at my statements that many martial artists today cannot defend themselves. If they can, they accept being hit and kicked for granted as part of their training.” — Quoted from Grandmaster Wong’s answer.
May I ask, sifu, should one avoid being hit altogether? How? What about in the sense of blocking? I suppose it is better to avoid contact than to have to block? When I practice blocks with my friend my arms are often sore/ bruised but we figured this would toughen us. I am grateful for your instruction Sifu,
— Lee, USA
Of course one should avoid being hit altogether. That is the main purpose of practicing an art of self-defence. That is also the main reason why I said people who freely exchanged blows in free sparring were not learning a martial art though they thought they did.
How does one avoid being hit? That is what he learns in a martial art, any martial art. Thee are two categories to accomplish this.
One category is to ward off the attack. There are many ways of warding off. Blocking an attack as described by you where your arm become sore or bruised is third-class. In first-class warding off you use minimum force to overcome maximum strength.
The second category of avoiding hit is to dodge the attack. There are also many ways of dodging.
You will learn these first-class responses to avoid being hit in the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course or the Intensive Taijiquan Course.
Having your arms sored or bruised from blocking is a poor way to toughen your arms. It is more likely to weaken your arms than to toughen them. A sore or bruised arm is painful and injured. Pain and injry weaken a person, not just his arms.
There are many excellent methods in our school for strengthening arms. Some examples are One-Finger Shooting Zen, Golden Bridge, Separating Water, and even Grasping Sparrowâ€™s Tail. The uninitiated may wonder how these exercises, especially Grasping Sparrowâ€™s Tail, can strengthen arms. Not only they do, they are excellent â€“ if practiced correctly.
Please take note that toughening, in the sense of conditioning, may not necessary be strengthening. If you punch your fist onto a wall, for example, you may toughen or condition your knuckles, but may not necessary add power to your punch. Hence, when we practice Thirty Punches, which is an exercise to increase power of the punch, we punch into empty space, and not onto a sandbag.
I would like to continue to strengthen my stances. I can see the difference between someone who knows many forms but wobbles on their legs and someone who has powerful stances but few forms.
What would be the you-wei and the wu-wei of horse stance? Right now I try to imagine my self relaxing and letting my chi sink to my feet. I can tell when I get tense that it rises up to my torso and chest but if I relax I can sink it down and hold the floor with my toes better.
Stances are very important in kungfu, and their benefits are transferred to daily life. Stances develop internal force and mental clarity.
The “you-wei” part of stance training consists of two steps. The first step is to get the poise correct. In the Horse-Riding Stance, for example, ensure that you are upright. The second step is to relax, relax and relax.
The “wu-wei” part is to be spontaneous. Don’t think of anything, including not imagining yourself relaxing and letting your chi sink to your feet. Just spontaneously remain upright and relaxed in your stance.
Stances are very important in kungfu training. Grandmaster Wong showed the importance of waist rotation in a Bow-Arrow Stance during a kungfu class in Madrid.
My wonderful girlfriend told me that she wanted to fast during Ramadan this year. She told me it was all about discipline and being spiritual. My initial thought and feeling was concern when I heard this. Personally I know little about Ramadan but I don’t see the spiritual side to forcing oneself to stay off food. Of course I could be wrong. Should I be concerned here? I always want to support her in whatever she wishes to do but I also want her to be safe as this is my natural instinct to protect her.
— Sifu Mark Hartnett, Ireland
Rituals of any religion help practitioners to practice their faith and thus purify their spirit. If a practitioner has strong spiritual roots, like a Zen monk, he may not need rituals yet attain high spiritual levels.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan also purifies the body, which contributes to purification of the spirit. If your girlfriend understands these deeper meaning, fasting during Ramadan is good for her. On the other hand, there are religious fanatics who follow religious rituals but act in a way God or whatever term the Supreme Reality is addressed asks his followers not to do.
If your girlfriend wishes to fast, ask her to prepare herself if it is the first time she attempts it. Her body needs time to adjust to fasting.
Fasting demands discipline, and is spiritual as it purifies both the body and the spirit. It is natural that you are concerned for her. A good approach is to tell her the significance of fasting and let her make her choice. As she is not a Muslim, she needs not fast the whole month of Ramadan, or during part of it. She can fasts for any day or two to make some adjustment and preparation.
I have been very lucky to spend time with a Hoong Ka master, and he emphasizes a lot of Asking Bridge to develop sensing skills for sparring. Whenever I spar with him and some of his senior students, their sensing skills are such that he is often able to simply “slip” out of my attempts to tame or close his hands unless I have superior force and chin-na.
— Frederick, USA
The Hoong Ka master defeated you because of skills and not because of techniques. Even if you use other techniques, he will still be able to defeat you.
This does not mean that techniques are not important. When he slips away, you can strike his retreating arm, or kick his leg.
You can also improve your skills of “bridging gap” and “follow-through”. When he tries to escape from your taming or closing hand, you “follow-through” with your taming or closing hand, and bridge the gap of his retreat. You should spend some time practicing on your own before applying the skills on your opponents.
Grandmaster Wong employs a pattern from Hoong Ka Kungfu, called Southern Shaolin in our school, in combat application
My attempts to simply close someone with a taming or pressing palm are generally defeated by my sparring partner simply turning their body into the Unicorn Stance or retreating if they have superior footwork to me. Is there an aspect of taming/closing an opponent that I miss, or should all attempts to tame or close an opponent use chin-na to “confirm” the taming/closing?
No, you have not missed the basic techniques of taming and closing, though you may not have learned sophisticated techniques of following through, like using chin-na to subdue your opponents.
But you attended the Baguazhang course at the UK Summer Camp. There are a lot of techniques and tactics you can use from the Baguazhang course to defeat your opponent when he turns aside into a Unicorn Step or when he retreats.
When he turns aside into a Unicron Step, for example, you can employ your Baguazhang footwork to follow his turning and strike him, or you can go to the other side and fell him from behind. When he retreats, you can rush forward, but taking care of your own safety, and push him off the arena, or you can jump forward with “Wild Crane Kicks Leg”.
It is not necessary to use chin-na to confirm taming or closing, but for one trained in chin-na, it is an excellent way to subdue opponents. When a chin-na master wishes to apply a chin-na grip on his opponent, it is unlikely the opponent could escape.
How would you recommend approaching sparring with someone who has superior sensitivity skills? I have had some success with using the “disappearing” that I discussed with you last year in sparring, which sometimes gives me opportunities, but I know that there are certain people I have met who can always notice me, so I do not want to rely too much on such an ability; I would personally rather have more solid fundamentals than rely on such a “trick.”
There are two main approaches. One is to avoid his sensing skills. Using kicks, for example, is a good tactic. Instead of having arm contact, you can kick at him.
The other approach indicates the hallmark of a master. Change his sensing skills, which are his strong points, to his weakness. Chin-na and dim mak are excellent in this respect.
Sifu Tim uses his leg to neutralize a groin attack from Frederick in a Baguazhang combat application
Another situation that I run across in sparring is sparring partners who have a lot of muscular strength. My usual tactic is to “borrow” my sparring partner’s force and use soft counters to conserve my energy and to guide their force away into emptiness so that I can set up a decisive strike, mainly using Baguazhang strategies and movements from the Swimming Dragon set and adding a Baguazhang “flavor” to the Hoong Ka I am learning here.
Dim mark is excellent for overcoming opponents with a lot of muscular strength, but you need to learn dim mak at a course from a master willing to teach you.
Many kungfu styles are well-known for the smaller-sized to defeat the bigger and stronger, and Baguazahgn is one of them. You can use Baguazhang techniques and tactics to get to an opponent’s side or back to strike him.
Sometimes, however, my sparring partners will “lock up” with a lot of tension and will not “give” me any force to work with, and I find that very difficult to handle. I can handle the situation usually with a combination of superior agility (getting to their sides or back, or simply feinting and striking a different body part) and stamina (simply outlasting their muscular tension), but I do not know if there is a better way to approach this sort of situation.
Don’t use force against force if your opponent is physically stronger.
All the methods you mentioned are excellent.
You can get to your opponent’s back to fell him. Don’t fell him with brutal strength. Off-balance him, and he falls easily.
You can also strike his vital spots, like his eyes, throat and sexual organ. But of course you stop an inch from target.
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.
Sifu Andrew Barnett and his son, Bjoem, demonstrating Shaolin Kungfu in combat application
I have participated in a few of the local schools and can not find one to my liking. I have received a black belt in Kung fu and at this time I do not feel like I deserve it due to my lack of practice and not improving myself in my skills. Can you please send me any information that you may have?
— Joe, USA
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
At all times in all places real kungfu masters are rare. In China in the past there were many kungfu masters but very few of them would accept students. Today many people teach kungfu, or what they call kungfu, but finding a genuine master is more difficult than finding a gem in a hay stack. Refer to Qualities of a Good Master for details.
What is taught all over the world today, including in China, is either a modernized form for demonstration or a debased traditional form that uses karate, taekwondo or kickboxing techniques for combat. In my opinion neither is genuine kungfu.
This does not necessarily mean that these demonstrative or debased forms are not without their benefits. They are magnificient to watch and is an excellent way to keep the exponents agile and fit, but they are not the same as the kind of kungfu traditionally taught in the past.
In my opinion, the bottom line to decide whether one is trained in genuine kungfu is whether he (or she) can use the kungfu forms he has learnt for some decent self defence. If he can fight well but uses other martial art forms instead of kungfu forms, he does not qualify to have practised genuine kungfu.
The bottom line of my definition is that the kungfu he has learnt must be capable of being used for fighting, even if he loses the fight. The crucial point is that his kungfu forms are more than sufficient for his self defence; he needs not borrow or “steal” other martial art forms, and he should be able to defend himself in a typical kungfu manner. Bouncing about as in boxing and kicking high as in taekwondo, for example, are not typical manners in kungfu fighting.
Good kungfu goes beyond mere fighting. One characteristic feature of good kungfu is the training of internal force for good health as well as combat efficiency. If you ask what internal force is, it is unlikely you have any experience in its training. It is like someone who has not eaten an orange, asking what the taste of an orange is.
As far as I know, this internal force training is not found in most other martial arts. Western boxing and wrestling, for example, pay much attention to external strength and physical mass, and their exponents train in ways which typical kungfu masters would consider detrimental to health.
Some Eastern martial arts like aikido and karate mention about internal aspects like chi (or ki in Japanese), but their exponents do not spend as much time or go as deeply as typical kungfu exponents do in these internal aspects. A typical traditional kungfu exponent, for example, may actually spend more time practising Abdominal Breathing or Stance Standing (zhan zhuang) than practising patterns or sets — a practice that is not normally found in most other martial arts or modern demonstrative, debased kungfu forms.
The best kungfu, like Shaolin and Taijiquan, goes beyond the physical and leads to spiritual cultivation irrespective of race, culture and religion. The onus of spiritual cultivation is direct experience, not mere talking or book learning, and is practised according to the students’ developmental levels.
For those who have so far wasted their time in unwholesome activities, or those who feel empty and lost despite abundant material wealth, turning to a happy, rewarding life here and now is a remarkable spiritual achievement; at the other scale, the spiritually advanced aim for the highest attainment known variously as return to God, unity with the Cosmos, enlightenment or in Zen terms simply going home.
A magnificient demonstration of modern wushu, which is different from traditional kungfu
Reproduced from Questions 1 in Selection of Questions and Answers March 1998
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.