Many people were very kind to regard me as a kungfu genius. Only a few people knew that I was called a child prodigy long before that. I knew how to read Chinese even at the age of three due to my father’s and mother’s informal coaching.
One day, soon after my recovery from my long illness after falling into a huge monsoon drain, my parents took me to see my father’s friend who was a restaurant stall owner at the New Life Plaza at Cintra Street in Penang. The New Life Plaza has now given way to residential flats, but in the 1940s and 1950s, it was busy with hawker stalls.
My father was talking with his friend who was chopping barbequed meat for his customers. I couldn’t recollect what their conversation was, but I could remember my father saying I could read Chinese, which is a formidable feat even for adult learners as the Chinese written language does not have an alphabet and readers have to recognise each one by itself of at least a few hundred characters.
“What, a small boy of three can read Chinese!” The restaurant owner found it hard to believe.
“Yes, that’s true,” my father replied.
“I can’t believe it!”
“You can test my son.”
“Well, boy,” my father’s friend looked at me kindly. “Can you tell me these characters?” He pointed to a row of big Chinese characters on his signboard.
“Yeit ting ho fan tim (一定好饭店).” I read each Chinese character loudly and slowly. They meant “Certainly-Good Restaurant”.
The man was astounded.
“Just three years old, and you can read Chinese characters! A real child prodigy!”
He promptly cut a large piece of “char siew”, which literally means “fork-barbeque”, i.e. a piece of meat that was being forked to be barbequed, hanging in a showcase in front of his restaurant, and passed it to me.
“Child prodigy, please enjoy this piece of char siew,” he graciously said.
Years later, when I told my wife this old story, she went to town and on her return, she gave me a nice piece of barbequed meat.
“Child prodigy,” my wife said, “Please enjoy this piece of char siew.”
My father and mother, myself and my wife, my sister and her husband, and my three eldest children in the 1980s
On another topic, can you please elaborate on good pain and bad pain. Some students, without proper understanding, give up training chi kung when they experience pain.
— Sifu Sippe Douma, New Zealand
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
For convenience, pain may be described as good or bad. Good pain is beneficial, and bad pain is harmful.
When a practitioner has generated a vigorous chi flow, the chi flow will break through blockage. In the progress, good pain may result. On the other hand, bad pain is due to illness or injury, or to wrong practice.
Good pain is mild, and is actually quite pleasant, though it is painful. Bad pain is severe, and is unpleasant. This is an academic description, and may not be meaningful to those who have no experience of good and bad pain. A better way to differentiate between good pain and bad pain is though direct experience.
Initially a practitioner may not differentiate good pain from bad pain easily, but with increased experience he will have no difficulty.
An analogy is the sour taste of an orange. An orange can taste sour because it is good, or because it is bad. Like good pain and bad pain, good sour taste and bad sour taste are actually different, but because of the limitation of words we still use the same terms, “pain” and “sour taste”.
A person who had not tasted an orange before would be unable to tell whether the sour taste of an orange was due to an orange being good or bad. But with experience of tasting some oranges, he would have no difficulty telling the difference.
What should a practitioner do when he feels good pain. He continues his training. When the blockage is cleared as he recovers from his illness or injury, the pain will disappear. But if the pain is bad, he should slow down or stop training until the situation improves.
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.
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.
“Less is More” is often true in our school. The principle can be interpreted in many ways.
One way of interpretation is that although we practice our chi kung for only 10 minutes, we have more benefits than most other students who practice for an hour in most other schools.
How do we justify that our students have more benefits although they spend less time in their practice? Our students, for example, overcome their illness, attain good health, vitality and longevity, and find joy in their daily living, whereas other students don’t.
As expected, other people who do not bother to find out whether our claims are true, may think we are boastful and arrogant, and some may become angry. As I have often said, that is their problem, not ours, and we are not going to waste our time on them. I am just stating the truth.
Another interpretation, which is relevant to our topic here, is that by performing less than our potential, we get more benefits. This is very different form what most people conceptualize. Most people, if they are dedicated to their training, want to get the most from their practice. For us, we may not want to get the most but we enjoy our practice!
If we get the most from our practice, we over-train, which results in our getting less benefits at best, or harmful effects at worst. More often than not, the result of over-training is harmful effects rather than less benefits.
Let us quantify our practice. Take the practice and the result of a student who attends my intensive course or a regional course as 100%. If he practices at 100% and gets 100% of the result, it will lead to over-training, usually with harmful effects. In other words, if he practices at home the way he practices when learning at my intensive course or a regional course, and gets the same benefits at home he gets at my intensive course or regional course, he will over-train.
What should he do? He should train at less than his potential, like at 30% instead of at 100%. He will also get about 30% of the potential benefits.
30% here is a guideline. It may be 25% or 35% or at whatever percentage he feels is right for his best benefits.
There are two points worthy of note. 30% of a student is different than 30% of a master. A master’s 30% may be a student’s 300%.
One may ask how a practitioner can reach 300% as the maximum is 100%. 100% is the maximum amount of benefits of the student at a given time. This is his potential at this time. 300% means three times the potential of the student at that time. In other words, a master’s 30% is 3 times the potential of a student.
A second point to note is that as a practitioner progresses, his benefits will also increase though he may operate at 30% all the time. 30% three years later may be 200% now. In other words after three years the benefits a person gets are twice his potential now although all the time he operates at 30%.
Why do I teach at 100% at an intensive course or a regional course, and then ask students to practice at home at 30%? There are two main reasons.
One, I teach in an intensive course or even a regional course in a few days or even a few hours material that will need a few years to practice. In other words, participants at an intensive course or a regional course learns in a few days or a few hours a certain amount of material. He needs a few years to practice at home the same amount of material.
Two, participants at my intensive course or a regional course range from beginners’ level to masters’ level. The masters already teach some of the techniques of the course to their own students at their regular classes. Among other benefits of the course, the masters improve on the skills in performing the techniques. Beginning students focus more on the techniques. Hence, because of the difference in skill level, 30% benefit of the masters can be 300% benefits of the beginners although they perform the same techniques.
If some one earns 2000 euros a month, 30& is not much, which is 600 euros. But if he earns 100,000 euros a month, 30% is 30,000 euros, which is a lot of money to most people.
Translated into chi kung benefits, it is as follows. About 20% of all chi kung practitioners in the world practice genuine chi kung, but of a low level. The other 80% use chi kung techniques to practice gentle physical exercise, often without their own awareness. Someone of this genuine but low level chi kung gets 2000 units of benefit a month, If you operate at 30% you get 30,000 units of benefit a month. If you work at 100%, which is not recommended as it will lead to over=training, you get 100,000 units of benefit a month.
Now, is it legitimate to say that other students of low level chi kung get 2,000 units of benefit a month, whereas our students operating at 100% get 100,000 units of benefit a month? 100,000 is 50 times 2,000. In other words, is it legitimate to claim that our chi kung is 50 times better than the low level chi kung practiced by others?
Let us take the most crucial element of chi kung, i.e. energy flow. Students at my intensive course or a regional coruse can generate an energy flow on the very first day of the course. If students of other schools can generate an energy flow after 50 days, it will be very good result. They can’t. Hence, it is legitimate to say that the chi kung practiced by our students is at least 50 times better than that of other schools!
It should be noted that our certified instructors can also help their students generate an energy flow on the first day of the students’ learning. But in regular classes of a few months, for the benefit of the students, our instructors normally take a longer time to do so, whereas I have to do so on the very first day because my courses last for only a few days or hours.
How do we lower our practice to about 30%? An excellent way is not to enter deeply in a chi kung state of mind. You can approach the issue as follows.
First, enter into a chi kung state of mind while you are performing chi kung, about half as deeply as you normally do. You will then operate your chi kung at about 50% of your potential. Using this as a guideline, the next time you practice chi kung, enter into a chi kung state of mind about half as deeply of what you did. Hence, you operate at about 25%.
It is worthy of note that we practice chi kung for its wonderful benefits. If you practice at 100%, i.e. at your potential, you may feel extraordinary for a short time but eventually you may harm yourself. Working at about 30% or at whatever level you feel it suits you, you will get the best benefits to enrich your daily life.
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.
Shaolin Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit, popularly known as Sifu Wong, is answering questions live from the YouTube audience about Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung for health and well-being. This Q&A commemorates when Sifu Wong was awarded “Chi Kung Master of the Year” in San Francisco in 1997.
Sifu Wong will also be teaching chi kung and kung fu in North America:
San Francisco – New York – New Hampshire – Toronto – Florida
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.