Tag Archives: Instructor-student relationship. master-student relationship


(reproduced from http://shaolin.org/general/benefits.html)

Sifu Wong

Sifu Wong at the International Congress for the Unity of Science in Seoul in 2000

Five Steps to Maximum Results

Why can some people attain in six months what others may not attain in six years? This is not an exaggeration; indeed, many of my students have reported that they have benefitted in a few months what they could only read about in books but never experienced although they had previously practiced the art in question for many years. Chi kung and kungfu (including Taijiquan) provide some glaring, if not disturbing, examples.

It is not uncommon today to find practitioners who have been in chi kung or kungfu for many years, some of whom are even instructors themselves, but who have no experience whatsoever of energy flow or any ability of self defence. Yet, the very fundamental of chi kung is energy flow, and that of kungfu is self defence. It is even more disturbing when some people, irrespective of whether their intention is good or selfish, start to teach chi kung or Taijiquan, which is actually a very effective form of martial art, after they have learnt some chi kung or Taijiquan movements for a few weeks, some even for a few days!

If you learn from such self-taught “masters” you are not going to get good results even if you practice for a whole lifetime. On the other hand, if you learn form a genuine master, you will get better results in a much shorter time. Nevertheless, while learning from a genuine master, or at least a competent instructor, is important, there are other contributing factors too, and they are generalized into the following Five Steps to Deriving the Best Benefits from Your Training:

  • Have a sound knowledge of the philosophy, scope and depth of the art you practice.

  • Define your aims and objectives clearly.

  • Seek a master for the best available methods to attain your aims and objectives.

  • Practice, practice and practice.

  • Assess your progress or otherwise with direct reference to your set aims and objectivs.

Philosophy, Scope and Depth

Understanding the philosophy, scope and depth of your chosen art is the essential first step if you want good result. Such an understanding acts like a map; it not only shows you the way and how to get there, but also the potential result at the destination.

Without this understanding, many people not only waste a lot of time and are often lost along the way, but also they do not actually know what they are working at. If they understand, for example, that to practice chi kung or Taijiquan, actually means to work on energy flow or to train for combat efficiency, far less people would have wasted their time over exercises that at best are gymnastics or dance.

If they further understand that the scope and depth of chi kung are much more than just energy flow, though working on energy flow is its essential foundation; and that the scope and depth of great kungfu like Shaolin and Taijiquan ae not just combat efficiency, though combat efficiency is the basic starting point, they would go beyond the foundation and basic to greater heights like vitality, longevity, mind expansion and spiritual fulfilment.

Where can you obtain knowledge on the philosophy, scope and depth of your chosen art? There are two main sources: living masters and established classics. Obviously if you hear it from a self-styled scholar who himself has not experienced what he says, or read it from a book which merely repeats cliches, you are unlikely to benefit much. Living masters were rare even in the past; they are rarer nowadays.

If you are so lucky to meet one, treat him with the respect as you would treat a living treasure. Showing Respect to the Master suggests the minimum you should do when meeting a living treasure. If you politely ask him relevant questions, he would answer them. If he gives excuses like the answers are too complicated for you to comprehend, or they involve secrets that you should not know (unless they really are secrets, which are not frequent in general questions), you are justified in suspecting whether he is a real master.

Established classics were also rare in the past, but they are more readily available today. You need to overcome two obstacles to understand the classics. One, you need to know classical Chinese; and two, you need to have some background knowledge. Most people, especially in the West, have neither of these two conditions. Their alternative is modern, easy-to-read books clearly written and well illustrated by practicing masters. Therefore, in chosing a book for your prior reading, you should decide on the following three factors: whether the book is dull or interesting, whether it is written in jargon or simple language, and whether the author and his material are authentic.

Defining Aims and Objectives

The Complete Book of Shaolin

The Complete Book of Shaolin” provides a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the Shaolin arts

It is so evident that without aims and objectives much of the learning or training is usually unfruitful, that mentioning this fact may become trite. Yet, most people practice chi kung or kungfu without set aims and objectives! Try asking some practitioners why do they practice chi kung or kungfu, and many of them will start searching for their aims or objectives after, not before, they have heard your question. Even if they have prior aims and objectives, often they are merely fashionable slogans, rather than real definitions to remind them of the direction of their training.

For our purpose here, aims are general in their definition, and long-term in their attainment; whereas objectives are specific and short-term. For example, to be able to defend yourself is a general aim in your Taijiquan training, whereas to be able to release yourself from some particular locks and holds constitutes an objective. You should also set a time frame within which to accomplish your aims or objectives. Needless to say, you have to be realistic and reasonable when setting your time. For someone who has been suffering from an illness for years, for instance, it would be unreasonable to expect the disease to be overcome by just practicing certain chi kung exercises for only a few weeks.

For convenience, objectives may be classified into personal objectives and course objectives. The choice of personal objectives depends on the needs and abilities of the person in question, and sometimes on his whims and fancy. Developing the art of tiger-claw, and performing well the Five Animals kungfu set are examples of personal objectives in Shaolin Kungfu training.

Course objectives are related to the particular set of chi kung or kungfu exercises you intend to train for a period of time. For example, you may wish to spend six months on Golden Bridge training in Shaolin Kungfu, or on the Three Circles Stance in Taijiquan. In either case, developing powerful arms and solid stances is an appropriate course objective.

To define your aims and objectives wisely (please read the webpage Aims and Objectives of Practicing Kung Fu), it is necessary to have some sound knowledge of the philosophy, scope and depth of the art in question. For example, if you do not understand that chi kung also promotes mind expansion and spiritual cultivation, you will be in no position to touch on the mind and spirit while you define your aims and objectives. If you think (mistakenly) that Taijiquan is merely moving your body, arms and legs gracefully, the aims and objectives you set for your Taijiquan training, no matter for how long you may practice, are necessarily limited by your narrow perspective.

Seeking a Master for the Best Available Methods

Sifu Wong and Sigung Ho

Sifu Wong posting with his teacher, Sigong Ho Fatt Nam, many years ago

Having set your aims and objectives, the next logical step is to seek a master to help you realize your aims and objectives. Good masters are hard to find; you have to spend some time seeking them, but it is worth all your time and effort. The webpage Qualities of a Good Master will give you some ideas what to look for in your search. Remember it is you who seek the master; he may have neither the need nor the obligation to teach you. It is simply amazing why some people presume that just because they want to learn, a master is duty-bound to teach them. It is also illogical to presume that a master would not charge any fee for his teaching, that he could live on sunshine and water. The right attitude, which often turns out to be the best approach to a master, is for you to prove yourself to be a worthy student.

If you cannot find a master, at least look for a competent instructor, who must qualify in the following two conditions. One, he must be professional, i.e. he knows what he is teaching. Someone who teaches a profund art like chi kung or kungfu, after having learnt it for a few months, literally does not know what he is teaching. He does not know, for instance, that he is teaching chi kung-like or kungfu-like dance or gymnastics and not real chi kung or kungfu. The second condition is that he must be ethical, i.e. he ensures what he teaches is beneficial, and if his students develop adverse side-effects he knows about them and is capable of rectifying them.

A good master will choose the best available methods for you to achieve your aims and objectives. The selection will depend on numerous variables, such as your needs and abilities, the master’s repertoire as well as environmental factors and supportive resources. You may sometimes wonder if the choice made is a good one, but if he is a good master and has accepted you as his student, it is almost always certain that he will choose the best method and procedure for you.

Alternatively, you may have known from your reading or elsewhere some useful methods to accomplish your aims and objectives. Your task, therefore, is to seek for a master who can teach you your selected methods. However, if he advises you to make any changes — such as in your aims or objectives, your previously selected methods, or the procedure of training — it is again almost always certain that with his wider perspective and experience, he knows your needs and how to fulfill them better than you do. It is not without justification for the saying that real masters are worth more than their weight in gold.

Practice, Practice and Practice

The fourth step is the most important and takes the most time. It is significant to note that this step is “practice, practice and practice”, and not “learn, learn and learn”. In fact, frequently in chi kung and kungfu, especially at this stage, the more you learn the less you accomplish! This does not mean that learning is detrimental; in fact, learning about the philosophy, scope and depth of chi kung or kungfu is the first essential step to obtaining the best result in your training. But if your training is geared towards chi kung or kungfu proficiency, it is detrimental merely to learn, learn and learn.

There are some crucial differences between practicing and learning. Practicing is practical and experiential; learning is theoretical and intellectual. Practicing deals with what has been known; its purpose is to develop and consolidate skills, force or ability. Learning deals with what is to be known; its purpose is to obtain new knowledge.

Masters are made through practice, scholars through learning. Masters perform, and directly experience what they profess. Chi kung or kungfu masters, for example, can demonstrate internal force, and experience vitality and mental freshness. Scholars merely talk, but often have no direct experience of what they know. Nowadays there are many chi kung and kungfu scholars, especially in the West, but there are very few masters, even in the East.

If you want to become a master, or just to be proficient, in chi kung or kungfu, you simply cannot escape this long process of practice, practice and practice. You do not practice just three times, or for three months, but preferably at least for three years. There is a saying that “three years of practice will bring a small success; ten years a big success”. What you practice may be simple, and usually consists of only one or a few techniques!

Actually it does not really matter what you practice, so long as you practice, practice and practice long enough, you will become a master of what you practice — even if your chosen method is inferior. If you continuously strike your palms onto a sand bag, or strike your leg against a coconut tree every day for three years — methods which are considered “inferior” in our Shaolin Wahnam School of Chi Kung and Kungfu — you will become a master of iron palm or iron leg, and may have the power to kill a person with just one strike. Unless you are particularly fond of showing off your brute strength, breaking bricks or someone’s bones with your palm or leg is normally not a rewarding thing to do. Hence, if you have acquired a good philosophical background in your first step, you will be in a better position to choose a “superior” method to practice in this fourth step for more rewarding results.

Assessing Progress According to Aims and Objectives

Shaolin Kungfu

Combat Application of Shaolin Kungfu

You should access your progress, or otherwise, according to your set aims and objectives. You must, of course, follow your master’s advice and the conditions required by the method of training. If your master asks you to breathe slowly and gently, it is sheer folly to attempt to be smarter than the teacher by breathing fast or forcefully. If the method requires you to practice daily for six months, it is a waste of your time and your teacher’s effort if you discontinue your training after three weeks because you have not experienced any effect.

If you follow your master’s advice and practice according to the requirements of the established method, you will obtain the results that method is reputed to give. For example, Self-Manifested Chi Movement is reputed to clear energy blockage and balance energy level, and the pattern Grasping Sparrow’s Tail in Yang Style Taijiquan is reputed to be an effective counter against all modes of attack. If you have practiced them correctly and adequately, you will have your energy blockage cleared, and be able to defend against all attacks. Why is this so? It is because the methods are established, which means they have been time tested for centuries to produce the expected results.

If you do not derive the expected results, which may sometimes happen, the fault is usually traceable to one or more of the following three causes:

  • the practice is incorrect or insufficient

  • the teacher is incompetent

  • the student is inadequate

Rectify the fault and the expected results will follow as a matter of course.

Your assessment is made not only at the completion of the training but also regularly during the course itself. Of course modifications, but not complete changes, are made when necessary, but they should be done with the master’s approval and supervision.

These Five Steps to Maximun Results may enable you not only to obtain remarkable results in shorter time, but also to approach the full potential your training can offer. For example, students who do not have the benefit of these five steps may be quite contented in their chi kung or kungfu training once they can cure their illness or attain combat efficiency, thinking that is all what chi kung and kungfu can do. Others who follow the five steps will understand a wider scope and greater depth of their art, and will therefore in a position to derive other benefits like mental clarity and spiritual joy.

The Five Steps show not only the procedure to follow but also the relevant dimensions to cover, involving all the three essentials in any training, namely the method, the teacher and the student. Hence, with this understanding one can appreciate that to get the best results in any training, be it chi kung, Taijiquan, Shaolin Kungfu, playing the piano or painting, merely having good techniques is not enough, he (or she) must also have a good teacher and himself be a good student. With such advantages and foresight, it is not surprising you can achieve in six months what others may not be able to do so in six years.



(reproduced from http://shaolin.org/general/qualities.html)

Sifu Lai Chin Wah demonstrating the Kwan Tou

A priceless photograph showing Sifu Lai Chin Wah demonstrating the Kwan Tou. Sifu Lai Chin Wah was Sifu Wong’s first kungfu teacher. Sifu Lai was better known in kungfu circles as Uncle Righteousness.

Having a good master is definitely a tremendous blessing in kungfu, taijiquan and chi kung training. As mediocre instructors are socommon nowadays – some even start to teach after having attended only a few week-end seminars – finding a great master is like finding a gem in a hay stack. Here are some guidelines to help you find one.

A living example

A good master must be a living example of what he teaches. A kungfu master must be able to defend himself, a taijiquan master must have some internal force, and a qigong master must exhibit radiant health, as these are the basic qualities these arts are meant to develop.

A master of kungfu, taijiquan or qigong does not enjoy the luxury of many coaches in modern sports like football and athletics who often cannot dribble a ball or run a race half as well as the students they teach. There are also some kungfu, taijiquan or qigong instructors today who cannot perform half as well as their average students, but they are certainly not masters, although as a form of courtesy they may be addressed as such by their students, or the general public.

Understanding Dimension and Depth

Besides being skillful, a good master should preferably be knowledgeable. He should have a sound understanding of the dimension and depth of the art he is teaching, and be able to answer basic questions his students may have concerning the what, why and how of their practice. Without this knowledge, a master will be limited in helping his students to derive the greatest potential benefits in their training.

However, especially in the East, some masters may be very skillful, but may not be knowledgeable. This is acceptable if we take the term “master” to mean someone who has attained a very high level in his art, but who may not be a teacher.

The reverse is unacceptable, i.e. someone who is very knowledgeable, but not skillful – a situation quite common in the West. A person may have read a lot about kungfu, taijiquan or qigong, and have written a few books on it, but has little kungfu, taijiquan or qigong skills. We may call him a scholar, but certainly not a master.

Sifu Ho Fatt Nam

Sifu Ho Fatt Nam demonstrating “One-Finger Shooting Zen”, a fundamental internal force training method in Shaolin Kungfu. Sifu Ho was the other Shaolin master whose teaching on Sifu Wong was decisive. To honour his two masters, Sifu Wong name his school Shaolin Wahnam.

Systematic and Generous

The third quality of a master as a good teacher is that he must be both systematic and generous in his teaching. Someone who is very skillful and knowledgeable, but teaches haphazardly or withholds much of his advance art, is an expert or scholar but not a good master.

On the other hand, it is significant to note that a good master teaches according to the needs and attainment of his students. If his students have not attained the required standard, he would not teach them beyond their ability (although secretly he might long to), for doing so is usually not to the students’ best interest. In such a situation he may often be mistaken as withholding secrets.

Radiates Inspiration

The fourth quality, a quality that transforms a good master into a great master, is that he radiates inspiration. It is a joy to learn from a great master even though his training is tough.

He makes complicated concepts easy to understand, implicitly provides assurance that should anything goes wrong he is able and ready to rectify it, and spurs his students to do their best, even beyond the level that he himself has attained.

High Moral Values

The most important quality of a great master is that he teaches and exhibits in his daily living high moral values. Hence, the best world fighter who brutally wounds his opponents, or the best teacher of any art who does not practise what he preaches, cannot qualify to be called a great master.

A great master is tolerant, compassionate, courageous, righteous and shows a great love and respect for life. Great masters are understandably rare; they are more than worth their weight in gold.


(reproduced from http://shaolin.org/answers/sp-issues/students.html)

Shaolin Kungfu

Kungfu masters teach kungfu, not enlightenment


It has been a while since I have been in search of a teacher that I feel I would become a great student from. I have visited your website and I am very interested in learning from you. I am so determined that I am willing to travel to Malaysia. Basically I need a fresh start in life and I have come to the revelation that this in the only way I am to find the path of greatness that I have been longing for

Konrad, USA

Editorial Note: The student also mentioned in later questions (not reproduced here) that he had no money and he was seeking for enlightenment.

Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit

Many people have written to me with requests similar to yours. Basically they have the following points in common.

  1. They are sincere in their requests.
  2. They want to be enlightened.
  3. They want to save the world, or at least teach others what they set out to learn.
  4. They think they are the kind of students masters should accept, if not it would be to the masters’ great loss.
  5. They want to be taught according to the ways they like.

The above is the perspective of many young people in the West aspiring to be masters one day. They would benefit much from knowing the typical perspective of Eastern masters whom they wish to learn from. The masters’ perspective is as follows.

  1. Sincerity is a pre-requisite, but there are other required qualities like determination, perseverance, diligence and ready to make sacrifice. Most students say they have these qualities, and honestly think they have, but actually they don’t. Masters have many ways to test them.
  2. Kungfu and chi kung masters do not claim to teach enlightenment. They will ask you to seek enlightenment somewhere else. Almost all these students have no idea of what enlightenment is. Thinking that they can be enlightened in a few months, or even in a few years, is one clear indication of their ignorance.
  3. Telling a master that you want to teach others before you even have learnt what you intend to teach, is a clear indication that you are so ignorance about the art and its tradition, as well as so ignorant about the long and difficult task ahead just to become a good student. You also suggest that you are arrogant, for which the masters know you will not make a good student.But it is different if you mention that you know the way is long and difficult, but you are willing to work hard, and you hope that one day you may prove to be worthy of your master’s teaching, and with his blessings you may teach others.
  4. It often amazes me why so many people, especially in the West, seem to think that just because they want to learn, a master must teach them. Most masters are not interested to teach. Some of them may not want others to know they are masters.To many genuine masters, becoming a master is a by-product! They have trained hard for many years, not because they aimed to become a master and then teach the world, but because they wanted to be healthy, full of vitality, live long lives, mentally fresh, and have spiritual joy. They are acknowledged as masters not because they teach others, but because they have mastered the methods leading to these benefits.
  5. A master has spent many, many years mastering his art. He knows better than you what, how and when to teach. Therefore, you learn according to his terms, not according to yours.I have mentioned a few times that those who wish to learn Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan from me, the best course of action is, after being familiar with basic Shaolin or Taijiquan forms, to attend my intensive courses.

    But some people told me, albeit politely, “No, the best for me is to study with you for a few years, during which time you provide me with food and lodging, and in return I work for you.”

    In essence they were suggesting I was not sincere in my statement about the intensive courses, and that they know better than me how to teach them. They should therefore seek another master. Such students also imply, unreasonably and selfishly, that masters have nothing better to do, but to make them masters.

Shaolin Kungfu

An Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Sabah


The question and answer are reproduced from Question 9 of the May 2001 Part 1 issue of the Question-Answer Series.

INSTRUCTOR-STUDENT RELATIONSHIP By Dr Kissey Damian, Senior Disciple of Grandmaster Wong

This is a reproduction of a discussion Dr. Damian Kissey had with some Shaolin Wahnam Instructors.

Dr Damian and Grandmaster WongDr Damian Kissey and Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit


About Teacher and Students of Shaolin Arts

Teacher’s Role : The aim is to be a good teacher, as defined in Sifu’s website : Skillful, Exemplary-courageous, Knowledgeable, Systematic, Inspiring, Generous-compassionate and Morally upright and righteous ), aspire for the highest Shaolin ideals if he or she is not yet a Buddha , decides who, what, when and how to teach (not for the student to decide)

Student’s Role : To be clear about the aim (eg combat efficiency), search for a teacher to fulfill aim, obey instruction once accepted as student, review results after certain duration of practice .

If a student cannot find the ideal best teacher, he should choose at least a qualified sincere teacher or continue searching.

The teacher’s attainment level must be higher than the student’s but it is not morally wrong if they eventually become husband & wife, or if the teacher treats the student (not the other way round) as an equal (e.g Sigung Choe Hoong Choy treated Sifu as equal).

If the student’s aim is achieved, the teaching is considered successful, regardless of whether the teacher is a eunuch, sometimes gets angry, sometimes intoxicated or is gay .

If wearing a mask means a teacher deliberately withholding or hiding a fact, then it is a matter of strategy and severity on a moral scale.

It is not the student’s business to not follow instruction just because the qualified teacher is not perfect in some ways. A student’s business is as outlined above. But a teacher may wear a mask sometimes if doing so helps students achieve their aims.

For example if a student has a phobia for eunuchs then a castrated teacher needs not tell, as the student may run away even before practice begins (i.e. a good strategy and a small lie). However a teacher should not pretend to students that he is a famous teetotaler, vegetarian Shaolin monk when in private he eats hamburger and gets intoxicated with alcohol/opium (i.e. evil strategy and a big lie) even though he is a good fighter.

How do we reconcile the Shaolin Buddhist precepts like Not Lying and Not Being Intoxicated with the two above scenarios? To me, it is a question of choosing the lesser evil from the spectrum of moral scale (Shaolin Laws). If the aims/ends (i.e. bringing good to the student and the teacher ) justify the means (i.e. wearing a mask), then it is net good action .

Respect (from student to teacher) is very important in Internal Arts as it creates the best condition for the student to achieve his aims .There is a saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” related to the general human tendency to perceive another person negatively after gradually knowing of his human shortcomings (even if some or all of them are imagined) .

But High Level Internal Arts are not for everyone and becoming Sifus is not for average persons. Novice students may fall into the trap of the above saying, start to intellectualize/judge their Sifus as if they stand at a same level, take special things for granted, when they should focus more in experiencing the depth and breadth of the Arts. These explain why, in history, even very great internal arts masters were persecuted, tortured and even crucified by the ignorant public or deviated followers .

If a Sifu rubs shoulders with all without discrimination and does not know how to keep some distance from students who do not deserve it yet or not mature enough to handle familiarity, it may lead to loss of respect for the teacher, and students’ progress will be affected and the school as a whole suffers consequences .

Sifus do not need to tell students everything that the students are not psychologically ready to hear as it may cause negative emotions/confusion and impede the students’ progress. That is why there are ordinary students and inner chamber disciples, open and closed/top secret.

Sabah Intensive Chi Kung CourseSabah Intensive Chi Kung Course, June 2009

Students should respect their Sifu. Sifus should keep a healthy distance (wear a mask sometimes) from students. School hierarchy is a necessity and Sifus should aim to continuously improve and aspire to the highest Enlightenment, not because of arbitrary Shaolin fancies but because it is in line with “Avoid Evil, Do Good, Purify the Mind”, because Buddhas and Great Masters have discovered through actual experience the nature of the ignorant human mind, the nature of inter-personal human relations, the nature of human societies on earth and the potential of all sentient beings.

Damian Kissey
Shaolin Wahnam Sabah, Malaysia
3rd February 2011