Tom applying what he has just learnt in the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in June 2007 against a Boxer posed by Chris in free sparring
Is it really possible to teach the combat applications of Shaolin and Taiji in an intensive course? I know many people have asked the same question on the Qigong (Chi Kung) course, and you have replied that “Its purpose is to equip you with fundamental skills and techniques so that you can competently practice on your own after the course. You need to practice for at least a few months before you can have lasting good results”.
— Kaiwan, Singapore
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
Yes, it is really possible, and it has been amply confirmed by practical experience of those who have attended my course. In the first place if I myself have doubt whether the course participants will get the benefits as promised in the course objectives, I would not offer the course.
For example, many people have requested me to offer an intensive course on the “Small Universe”, but as I am still unsure whether I could help the course participants to acquire the benefits of the “Small Universe” — not just the techniques — within the time frame of an intensive course, I have refrained from offering it. I am making progress in the methodology of teaching the “Small Universe”, and when I am sure of the result, I may offer the course in the future.
( Editorial Note: This was written in April 2004.)
What I have said about the Intensive Chi Kung Course concerning fundamental skills and practicing on their own, also applies to the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and the Intensive Taijiquan Course. If course participants practice on their own for a few months what they have learnt in the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and the Intensive Taijiquan Course, they can apply their techniques and skills effectively in combat. Even when they spar with their friends or students immediately after their return from the course, the latter will be amazed at their rapid improvement within such a short time. After a year, the latter would have no match at all.
There is nothing mysterious or mythical about it. It all boils down to vision, direction and systematic training . Both my Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course and my Intensive Taijiquan Course focus on internal force training and combat application. A course participant has about 6 hours of systematic sparring a day, which means he has about 30 hours of systematic combat training from the course.
Most kungfu students do not have any systematic combat training at all. Many may have engaged in free sparring, but free sparring is not systematic combat training. In fact, the way they approach free sparring is counter-productive. Not only they sustain a lot of internal injuries, they condition themselves to fight in a way where they never apply their kungfu techniques and skills effectively. In principle, it is like training in football but playing hockey instead.
Let us take a scenario. Suppose you are trained in a way of a typical kungfu school today. To learn fighting, you and a partner practice free sparring. You stand in a typical kungfu stance using a typical kungfu pattern. Your partner charges at you and rains blows on you. You start to think to yourself: “Now what kungfu pattern should I use to defend against these blows?” Before you could even finish running your thought in your mind, a few blows have landed on your face and body.
After some time (which can be a few seconds, days or weeks later) you become smarter. As your sparring partner charges at you, you start to move back to avoid his blows. But because you stand at a deep kungfu stance, your retreat is slow, and your partner still rains blows on your face and body.
After some time, you discover that if you abandon your kungfu stances and bounce about, you can move faster, but your partner also charges in fast and rains blows on you. Soon you discover that you have no time to think of which kungfu techniques to use, so you just block his blows instinctively. You also discover that you can also rain blows on him.
Your sparring partner has become smarter too. He discovers that he can kick you or grab you or throw you onto the ground. He also learns that he may use some tricks. For example, he may pretend to strike you with a blow, but as you block or dodge the feign move, he kicks at you. Such free sparring may go on for years.
If you are tough like a buffalo and didn’t chicken out even after receiving a few broken jaws and broken bones from the blows and kicks, over the years of free sparring you may discover some special ways of counter-attacking. For example, when your partner strikes you with a blow, instead of blocking or bouncing away, you may move to his side and strike his ribs before he has time to pull back his attacking hand. You may also discover that if you are skilful enough, you can apply this counter-attack even if his initial blow is a feign.
An invaluable photograph showing two combatants in an annual grand free sparring competition of Grandmaster Ho Fatt Nam about 40 years ago, following the tradition of the southern Shaolin Temple. Notice that they used typical Shaolin kungfu patterns, which were the same as what our Shaolin Wahnam kungfu students use today, and which were also the same as those used by Shaolin disciples in real fighting a few hundred years ago, as revealed in written records and illustrations.
In a year of free sparring, there may be many occasions when you can use this counter-attack. But these occasions occur so fast that you are usually unprepared for them. Hence, in practical terms you may actually use such a counter-attack a few times in a year of free sparring, and you may be successful only once or twice. Most of the time you would only say to yourself, “Oh, I could use that special counter-attack”, but your hands and legs are too slow for your intent.
Why are you too slow? And why can’t you use the kungfu techniques that you perform in solo forms? The reason is that your free sparring has been haphazard and unmethodical.After 10 years of free sparring you may not be more efficient than when you were in your first year!
Now, take another scenario. You stand at a typical kungfu stance using a typical kungfu pattern. Your training partner rushes at you to rain blows. But he couldn’t. As soon as he makes his first move, irrespective of whether it is real or feign, you intercept it with a tiger-claw, using a tactic called “one closes two”, in such a way that he cannot continue his other hand attack without making an adjustment. But before he can make the adjustment, you drive a palm strike with your other hand into his ribs to fracture them, had you wanted to, using a Shaolin pattern called “Dark Dragon Draws Water”. But of course you stop just short of target with your trained control.
Will this scenario happen? It never will, if your “training” is haphazard. It surely will, if your training is methodological and systematic.
At first your partner does not rush at you. He moves in at a comfortable speed for you to execute your counter-attack. How did you discover this counter-attack? You didn’t. It was evolved from centuries of actual fighting, and is taught to you by your master who has inherited this technique. You and your partner would have to practice just this sequence of attack and counter-attack 50 times a day. In three months, you and your partner would have practiced it a few thousand times, compared to only a few times in 10 years had you been doing haphazard free sparring.
Students enjoying using Shaolin Kungfu for sparring at the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Sabah in March 2007
By practicing systematically a few thousand times, you partner will be able to attack you with more force and speed, and you will be able to counter-attack more efficiently than others who perform similar attacks and counter-attacks haphazardly a few times in 10 years. In other words, although you have trained for only three months, if someone rushes at you to rain blows at you, you will be able to handle this combat situation more efficiently than a kungfu student who has done haphazard free sparring for 10 years.
What would you do if your partner makes an adjustment successfully and executes a side kick at you as you attempt to counter-attack with a palm strike? Spontaneously you withdraw your front leg to avoid his kicking attack, and simultaneously strike his kicking leg with your arm, using a Shaolin pattern called “Lohan Strikes a Drum”.
You can do this effectively because your master has the vision to foresee that as you counter-attack with a palm strike, your opponent may respond in a number of preferred moves. He also has the direction to train you systematically to respond to these moves. Had you been performing haphazard free sparring, you would have to respond on the spur of the moment, which is another way of saying your respond will be artless and impromptu.
Of course your opponent may attack you in other ways besides charging at you with blows. Your master has the vision to predict the numerous ways an opponent would attack, and provides the direction of your systematic training.
Chi kung can be practiced by people of different religions or of no religion
However, I am a Christian and believe one should develop mind, body and soul to be a better person. Whereas, it seems chi kung and meditation divert more into Buddhism. Do you think I could still learn and practice chi kung and meditation and benefit from them without mixing both religions?
— Alex, Malaysia
Definitely you can learn and practice chi kung and meditation and benefit from them without mixing Christianity and Buddhism. Many people did, have done, are doing, and will do that. Many Shaolin and Taijiquan masters expert in chi kung and meditation were, and are, pious Christians.
Due to history and culture, some people mistakenly think that chi kung and meditation are Buddhist or Taoist practices. Similarly some people in remote parts of Asia mistakenly think that all those who speak English are Christians! As many of their early practitioners were Buddhists or Taoists — just as many of the early Christians who came to Asia were English speaking — it was easy to make the mistaken connotation.
Actually chi kung and meditation were practiced by the early Christian Fathers in classical Europe, although they did not call the practices “chi kung” and “meditation”. Faith heeling by Christian priests, which was a major form of medical treatment in Europe during the Middle Ages was a form of chi kung. Reflection on God, which was a major part of training of Christian monks, was a form of meditation.
Chi kung and meditation are non-religious. People of any religion or no official religion can practice and benefit from them without distracting from their religion. On the contrary, many people have become more pious in their own religion after practicing chi kung or meditation because their practice confirms for them by direct experience the validity of some of their beliefs. For example, in deep moments of Standing Meditation in my Intensive Chi Kung Course when they personally experienced tremendous joy as they felt their spirit expanding, many participants suddenly realized the beauty and majesty of God.
The above is taken from Question 7 of May 2003 Part 1 of the Selection of Questions and Answers.
A combat application from the Triple Stretch kungfu set
With the help of Sam Tuck, Luk Ah Choy, Fong Sai Yuk and Wu Wei Thien from Guangzhou, Hoong Hei Khoon set up a kungfu school at Foshan, which was a big city some distance from the province capital at Guangzhou. Hoong Hei Khoon named his school “Siu Lam Hoong Koon” or “Shaolin Hoong Kungfu School”.
Soon it was New Year day. Many kungfu schools celebrated the New Year festive session with lion dance. Amongst the famous lion dance teams were from Chan Kungfu School, Leong Kungfu School, Li Kungfu School and Lu Kungfu School.
A wealthy shop, called Toi Woh Hong, hung up a “green” (i.e. vegetable with a red packet containing money) tens of feet in the sky for the lions to gather. Attached to the “green” was a banner clearly stating that gathering the “green” depended on the personal kungfu skill of the head and the tail lion dancers, and other people were not permitted to help.
The first lion team that saw the “green” was from Lu Kungfu School. The master and students of the Lu Kungfu School found the “green” too high, so they just passed it. Then came the lion teams from Leong Kungfu School and Li Kungfu School. The kungfu masters and students had a look at the “green”, and then walked away.
The lion team from Chan Kungfu School soon followed. The kungfu master and his students discussed how they could gather the “green”. Some students suggested using human formation, called Lohan formation, which was forming different tiers of people one on top of the other. Their sifu mentioned that this was not permitted as stated in the banner. As they could not find a good solution, they also passed the “green” without gathering it.
The last to arrive was the lion team from Hoong Kungfu School. Some students reported to Hoong Hei Khoon that the “green” was very high, but human formation, which was a usual way to gather high “green”, was not allowed. They also suggested that the lion would by pass the “green”.
Hoong Hei Khoon exclaimed, “We should not by pass the ‘green’, which would show that we lack ability.”
“But how would we gather the green if human formations are not allowed?” declared some students.
“I’ll show you,” Hoong Hei Khoon answered. He took over the lion head, and a senior student took the tail. The lion dance music, which comprised a gigantic drum, a massive gong and some pairs of copper cymbals, sounded majestically.
The lion danced magnificently beneath the “green”, with the lion music creating a joyful din. After some time, Hoong Hei Khoon opened the mouth of the lion and sent out a flying dart, which neatly cut the thread tying the “green”, causing it fall into the lion mouth. All those present applauded loudly and noisily.
The news soon reached lion dancers of the Chan Kungfu School. They became jealous, and came back to scold the lion dancers of the Hoong Kungfu School that they had no manners. This caused members of both lion dance teams shouted at each other and some of them exchanged blows.
Hoong Hei Khoon shouted at his students to stop, and then asked lion dancers of the Chan Kungfu School in a polite way, “In what ways we have no manners?”
The master of the Chan Kungfu School was called Chan Tiet Ngow. He was good at kungfu and had much strength, but was arrogant and irrational.
He pointed at Hoong Hei Khoon and shouted, “How dare you ask in what way you have no manners! In your eyes, do you see our Chan Kungfu School? There were reasons why we did not gather the ‘green’ from Toi Woh Hong. The owner thinks that because he is rich, he can buy us. It is not because we lack the skill to gather the ‘green’. As you are also martial artists, you should know even though it is not explicitly explained.”
Hoong Hei Khoon replied, “That’s wrong. Gathering ‘green’ is a form of entertainment. Everyone can gather the ‘green’. If you do not want to gather it, others may want. Without any purpose, you open your mouth and use angry words to hurt others. “
Chan Tiet Ngow did not answer. He went forward and thrust a punch at Hoong Hei Khoon.
Hoong Hei Khoon retreated a small step to avoid the punch. He did not counter. He did not want to change this small matter into a big matter.
But Chan Tiet Ngow did not appreciate it. He moved forward again and hung a buffalo-horn fist at Hoong Hei Khoon’s temple. Hoong Hei Khoon gently brushed off this attack with a thread-hand, using a pattern called “Golden Dragon Plays with Water”. The two masters then exchanged a number of movements.
Chan Tiet Ngow employed a sideway low horse-riding stance and executed a right thrust punch at Hoong Hei Khoon’s abdomen. Hoong Hei Khoon withdrew his front leg into a left lift-leg stance and employed the pattern “Lohan Plays with Tiger”, thrusting his left fist into Chan Tiet Ngow’s ribs, while his left punching arm brushed away Chan Tiet Ngow’s thrust punch. Chan Tiet Ngow could not avoid, and was hit on the ribs.
Instantly, Hoong Hei Khoon pushed away Chan Tiet Ngow’s right hand, and simultaneously hung a left fist on the opponent’s face, and kicked at the opponent’s groin with his right foot, in a pattern called “Rising Dragon Galloping Tiger”. But out of compassion, Hoong Hei Khoon kicked at the opponent’s abdomen instead of the groin. This combat sequence was from the kungfu set called Triple Stretch, which was a specialty of Hoong Hei Khoon.
Hoong Hei Khoon could have broken Chan Tiet Ngow’s bones, smashed his groin, and caused the opponent serious injury or even death. But he did not want to enlarge what to him was a small matter. He just wanted to put Chan Tiet Ngow out of action for some time. Chan Tiet Ngow’s students ran forward and carried their sifu away.
After this incident Hoong Hei Khoon became famous in Foshan. He was also known to be kindhearted. Later he was regarded as the First Patriarch of Southern Shaolin Kungfu, often called Hoong Family Kungfu, in the world.
When Hoong Hei Khoon reached Guangzhou, he went to meet his siheng, the Venerable Sam Tuck, the abbot of West Zen Monastery. At that time, his sidai, Luk Ah Choy, was there.
(“Siheng” referred to a senior kungfu brother, and “sidai” referred to a junior kungfu brother.)
While Sam Tuck, Hoong Hei Khoon and Luk Ah Choy were talking about the good old days, a monk ran in and told Sam Tuck that a group of people were chopping down trees in front of the temple.
The Venerable Sam Tuck told his two sidai, “In front of West Zen Temple, there is a forest of birch trees. They were planted by our ancestors. It looks that today I have to move my limbs (i.e. take action).“
They saw that between twenty and thirty people were chopping down huge birch trees. A few trees were then falling down with a loud noice.
“Anyone who dares to chop trees in my temple must stop!” Sam Tuck shouted. Otherwise, don’t say that monks are not compassionate!”
Those chopping trees stopped their action. They saw that Sam Tuck was the abbot of the temple, and his hand was holding a staff. Behind him stood two persons who were empty handed.
The leader of the group of people chopping trees was called Li Kang. He thought that the monk should get more people if he wanted to stop them felling trees. There were only three of them, with the monk holding a staff. There were more than twenty people chopping trees, and all were holding axes. Wasn’t it moths charging at fire (i.e. were the monk and his two companions committing suicide)?
Not only he did not run away, he went forward a few steps, and said, “These trees grew up naturally. There are no owners. Everyone can chop them down. You say that these trees belong to West Zen Temple. But around here for tens of miles, there are no less than a million birch trees. You can point out each tree to me, telling me what year, what month and what day it was planted. If you can do so, we shall move away. If you cannot do so, we shall continue our chopping.”
The other people laughed out loudly.
“You have forcefully used words to abuse reason. This shows that you all are not good persons. Right, you can chop the trees, but you must ask my companion.”
Li Kang thought that his companions were the two persons, Hoong Hei Khoon and Luk Ah Choy, behind Sam Tuck. So he said, “You ask them yourself. We just watch.”
Sam Tuck held up his staff and exclaimed, “My companion is here. You all can ask it.”
Li Kang was furious. He waved his axe, and asserted, “This monk has no manners. Today let us show him our terror!”
Saying this, he led the group with axes in their hands to attack Sam Tuck.
Sam Tuck just smiled. He told Hoong Hei Khoon and Luk Ah Choy, “This group of robbers’ hair. I alone will be sufficient to handle them. Please just watch and do not help me.
Thus with staff in hand, Sam Tuck rushed into the crowd. Left strikes and right hits, like a tiger entering into a herd of sheep. He knew very well that to catch the thieves, he must first catch the chief. So, without more words, he struck a hard hit onto the shoulder of Li Kang.
Li Kang sustained a hard hit. He cried loudly and ran. Others seeing Li Kang running away, dropped their axes and ran like mice.
Sam Tuck smiled and commented, “A group of crows!” Then he spoke to Hoong Hei Khoon and Luk Ah Choy, “A person who has left his family (i.e. a monk), moves his hands and moves his legs (i.e. performs unnecessary action), has gone against pure rules (i.e. temple rules). This will cause much laughter.”
Hoong Hei Khoon and Luk Ah Choy quickly replied, “We dare not laugh!”
Sung Chan opened the packet to see what was inside the small gift. It was just a small piece of cloth. Sung Chan was baffled. What had this small piece of cloth to do with Hoong Hei Khoon? Suddenly he realized that the color of the cloth and the dress he was wearing was the same.
He dispersed his students and went into his room. He took off his trousers to examine. He was shocked, and his face was pale. There was a small hole in his trousers near the buttock which exactly fit the small piece of cloth in the gift. He realized that when he kicked Hoong Hei Khoon as they left the school, Hoong Hei Khoon’s response was so fast that he did not realize. If Hoong Hei Khoon were less compassionate, he would have died. He knew that Hoong Hei Khoon was far superior to him in kungfu.
Quickly Sung Chan ran to Three-Spring Hotel and knelt before the room where Hoong Hei Khoon stayed. He cried, “This little person should be dead. Sifu Hoong please forgive me!”
Hoong Hei Khoon came out of his hotel room and lifted up Sung Chan.
Sung Chan explained, “My kick was fast and powerful. I dare not say that it is unparallel in the world, but not many people can even notice it. Now, while I kicked, Sifu Hoong reversed his hand and made a hole in my trousers. I didn’t even realize it. “
“When I treated you son, I heard that your art of kicking was very deep. Today, when I arrived at your school, I perceived that the atmosphere was different. So I paid particular attention to your movements. When you kicked me, I just reversed my hand and responded.”
Sung Chan came up from his seat and knelt down again. He said, “Sifu Hoong ‘s kungfu is really very high. I am without talents. I wondered whether Sifu agrees to accept me as a student.”
Hoong Hei Khoon helped Sung Chan to get up, and replied, “You must not speak like this. If other people know about it, your livelihood will be affected. You and I are different. I am alone, without any care and without any worry. But you have a family, with a wife and children. Your family depends on you. Today we have the karma (i.e. cause and effect) to meet. We are friends. It is not necessary to have a teacher-student relationship.”
Sung Chan was very touched. Then he said, “If Sifu Hoong intends to stay on, you can move to my house. Firstly, you don’t have to be alone to stay in a hotel. Secondly, I can often seek your advice.”
“Thank you for your kindness. I have been away from my home village for almost twenty years. To return to have a look is already more than what I’ve asked for. I have decided to leave tomorrow to go to Guangzhou.”
“Is there anything that make you leave tomorrow?” asked Sung Chan.
“I heard that my sidai (i.e. junior kungfu brothers), Luk Ah Choy and Wu Wei Thein, are in Guangzhou. I want to meet them and also my siheng (i.e. senior kungfu brother) at the West Zen Temple.