Combat Sequences 1 to 4 which have been posted in previous webpages constitute one stage of combat training, and they form the kungfu set “Black Tiger Steals Heart” in the Shaolin Kungfu programme of our school. The main objective of this stage is to develop fundamental combat skills as follows:
flowing movement and force
The first two skills, right timing and right spacing, are the most fundamental. Without them the other skills, as well as all techniques and force, lose their significance. An exponent, for example, may have some fantastic techniques and tremendous force, but if his attack or defence cannot reach its target on time, all his techniques and force are quite useless.
All the principles you learn in combat training can be, and should be, transferred to our daily work and play to make our life more rewarding. This is a main reason why we devote our time and effort to kungfu training. The principles of right timing and right spacing are of utmost importance in life. You may be the best computer programmer in the world or have the most advanced marketing skills, but if these skills are not used at the right time and at the right place, they are as good as being useless.
Some people, who may actually have many talents or much knowledge, constantly complain that society or Mother Luck never gives them an opportunity to use their talents and knowledge. What they need is to develop the skills of right timing and right spacing like what we do in our combat training, and transfer these fundamental skills to daily life.
In the previous set of four combat sequences, besides the fundamental skills you also learned the basic techniques for hand attacks and defence. You should practise these four sequences in stages, as follows:
At the pre-choice stage, the initiator begins with a pre-chosen sequence, and the responder responds accordingly to complete the sequence. At the self-choice stage, the initiator may start with any sequence he likes, but the releasing of control must be gradual so that the responder can respond accordingly too and both partners can complete the sequence smoothly.
At the end-point continuation stage, after completing one sequence the initiator (or sometimes the responder) starts another sequence without retreating to poise patterns. For example, after completing Combat Sequence 1, instead of returning to poise patterns, the initiator continues by repeating Combat Sequence 1 or starting Combat Sequence 2. You should continue to the next sequence at the start of the next sequence, but later you may continue at any suitable point of the next sequence. Hence, at this stage an encounter will consist of five or six exchanges instead of three.
At the mid-point continuation stage, either one of the partner may continue with another sequence at the mid-point of the first sequence. For example, you may start with Combat Sequence 2, but at any suitable point during the sequence you or your partner may continue to Combat Sequence 3. You may enter Combat Sequence 3 at its beginning or at any suitable point of Sequence 3. Hence the exchanges are less although this stage is a progression from the previous stage. But later you may have three instead of two sequences in one encounter.
At the end-point addition stage, you or your partner may add a suitable hand-attack pattern and the other person will respond accordingly. The additional attack pattern need not be any of the patterns found in the four sequences, but it must be a hand attack. For example, instead of a level punch of the “Black Tiger”, you may use a palm strike or a phoenix-fist. You are to add only one pattern, and after the respond both will return to poise patterns.
Once you have practised these four combat sequences well, you can defend against all hand attacks — although at this level the range of techniques is limited. Hence, you will soon find that neither you nor your sparring partner can beat the other. No matter what hand attack or counter- attack one uses, the other can defend against it effectively. None has an advantage over the other because now both have the same level of skills and techniques.
To overcome this impasse, you have to find at least one advantage over your partner (or opponent in real fighting). This can be achieved by either improving your skills or expanding your techniques. In other words, although you and your partner are at the same level of techniques, if you are faster or more powerful than him, you can still beat him. Alternatively, although you and your partner are at the same level of skills, if you can use techniques which he is unfamiliar with, you will also beat him. A main objective of the next set of four combat sequences, Sequences 5 to 8, is to expand your hand techniques.
This sequence, “Fierce Tiger Speeds Through Valley”, introduces the right leg mode in attack. So far, from Combat Sequences 1 to 4 with the exception of the “Precious Duck” pattern, the left leg mode is used. The left leg mode and the right leg mode have their own strong points and weaknesses. Some martial artists, often without their own awareness, favour one mode to the other. Later when you are more skilfull and know more techniques, you can maneuver your opponent to his unaccustomed leg mode, often without him knowing, thus gaining a tactical advantage.
In the previous four combat sequences, continuing from one sequence to another was easy when you were executing Sequences 1 and 2, but you probably experienced some difficulty if you were executing Sequences 3 or 4. This was because of your leg mode. After completing Sequences 3 and 4, your right leg was in front, and you might not know how to continue your attack as your attack patterns in the right leg mode were limited.
Now this limitation can readily be overcome. For example, after defending against your partner’s Black Tiger or Green Dragon with your right Single Tiger in Sequences 3 or 4, you can “thread” with your left Golden Dragon and continue with your right Fierce Tiger as in Sequence 5. You will find a lot of attack patterns in the right leg mode in subsequent sequences.
A simple chi kung exercise, but performed in a deep chi kung state of mind, can be very powerful
We have become so cost-effective that students and instructors do not have to do their best to practice as I have taught. If they practice daily and attain only 30% of what they attained during the courses I taught them, they would have done well.
This is almost a joke. “Ku lian”, which means “bitter training”, is the hallmark of all kungfu training, including my own kungfu training when I was a student. But now we tell our students, “Don’t worry! Don’t intellectualize! Enjoy your practice! If you just attain 30% you would have done well. If you try to do your best, you will be over-training.”
Hence, it is no surprise that many of our students and some instructors over-train.
What are the signs we can use to say that we over-train?
Over-training is the result of getting more benefits than our physcial body can cope. The signs are unpleasantlness, nausiousness, tiredness, pain and over-cleansing.
Over-cleansing, which is a result of over-training, is a process where we clear away rubbish faster than what our physical body can cope. Rubbish includes bad cells, pain, sickness, negative emotions and perverted views.
The signs of over-cleansing are similar to those of over-training, thus the confusion, such as unpleasantness, nausiousness, tiredness and pain, and may also include rashes, pimples, heavy breadth and body ordour.
The obvious action to overcome or prevent over-training is to slow down the training. Slowing down the training can be achieved in time or intensity.
If a student practices an hour a session, he can slow down by prcticing just 15 minutes a session. If he practices two sessions a day, he can now practice one session a day. If he practices everyday, now he can practice once in two days or three days.
In this connection, it is helpful to remind himself that practicing kungfu or chi kung is to enrich his life and the lives of other people, and never to enslave himself to the art. By reducing the time of his training, he now has more time for other worthy activities, which previously he may mistakenly thought he had no time for, like spending more time with his parents or friends, or just watching clouds passing by in the sky.
As many of our students and instructors enjoy our training, and also our training time is much shorter than what most other practitioners spend in their training, a more suitable alternative is to reduce the intensity of training to overcome or prevent over-training.
To make our training less powerful so that we do not over-train, we do not go too deeply into a chi kung state of mind. Instead of spending a minute, for example, to enter into a chi kung state of mind, we just spend a few seconds.
Or we can just go straight to our exercise without first spending time, even a short one, entering into a chi kung state of mind. Even when we do not purposely enter into a chi kung state of mind, we are still in a chi kung state of mind due to our habit, so we are still practicing genuine chi kung or good kungfu.
I tried this method at a chi kung course in Madrid recently, and it worked very well. All students, including some fresh beginners, enjoyed an energy flow. It was not as powerful as in other courses, but it was still powerful, and more importantly it best suited the needs of the students. The students were still fresh and energetic at the end of the course, not tired and worn out as in some other courses.
For some students and instructors in our school, even not purposely entering into a chi kung state of mind at the start of the exercise may still be too powerful. The next step, in a descending order of steps described here, is to purposely perform the exercise at a physcial level.
This is akin to but not the same as the step described previous to this one. At the previous step, we did not purposely enter into a chi kung state of mind, but might perform the exercise in a chi kung state of mind due to habit.
At this step we purposely do not enter into a chi kung state of mind, and purposely perform our chi kung or kungfu exercise at a form level. This indeed is what most people who practice genuine chi kung and genuine kungfu do.
But this is not what most people who say they practice chi kung and kungfu do. They perform genuine chi kung and genuine kungfu forms as gentle physcial exercise and as kungfu gymnastics. That constitutes more than 80% of chi kung and kungfu practitioners. Less than 20% perform genuine chi kung and genuine kungfu but at a form level. That was also what I did when I took more than a year to generate an energy flow or to develop internal force.
When you perform chi kung or kungfu exercise at a form level, you are still performing genuine chi kung and genuine kungfu, and therefore still in a chi kung state of mind — at lease some of the time and not too deeply. Our students and instructors would have no difficulty in understanding what I explain here. But many other people may not understand though they know the dictionary meaning of all the words I have used.
Do you know why? It is because they do not have the experience of what I explain, whereas our students and instructors have. Another way is to say that the problem is due to the limitation of words.
If a practitioner still finds himself over-training even when he performs the art or exercise at the form level, a remedy is to take negative action. He purposely intellectualizes or purposely tenses his muscles — not all the time but some of the time. When he intellectualizes or tenses his muscles, he brings himself out of the chi kung state of mind. When he is not in the chi kung state of mind, he will not get the benefits of chi kung or internal force which causes over-cleansing in kungfu. At the end of his practice, he must have a short remedial exercise to relax his mind and muscles.
Besides reducing the level of training so as not to over-train, which is described above in descending order, one can also spend his excess energy in wholesome activiites. He can performs kungfu sets or combat sequences at a form level. He can also spend his time enjoying with his friends, family or with himself, like hiking, swimming, partying, traveling, socializing, reading and writing. He can also spend his excess energy on his work, like moving goods around in a shop or planning a marketing progreamme for his company.
Deviating is getting harmful effects instead of benefits from one’s training. In a mild form it is not getting the result practicing the art or exercise is meant to give, but not suffering from harmful effects.
An effective way to expand extra energy is to practice combat sequences at a physical level
One can learn a lot about kungfu by reading good kungfu books
I have recently started to learn kung fu, but I feel sometimes that I am not learning as much as I could. But I have nothing to compare with.
— Edward, UK
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
Some people may think it is a matter of semantics, but actually the difference in the choice of words here is crucial. I clearly remember that in my early days with Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, my sifu told me, “One does not learn kungfu, he practises kungfu.”
That was good advice from a great master. When you learn kungfu, you add techniques, or worse still you add theoretical information. When you practise kungfu, you go over and over again what you already know, without adding something new.
Most people want to learn kungfu; they would be bored practising kungfu. When you learn kungfu, even if you keep on learning for many years, you remain a learner, or at best a scholar. When you practise kungfu, if you keep on practising for many years, you may become a master.
Another crucial difference is that when you learn kungfu, your emphasis is on information, whereas when you practise kungfu, your emphasis is on performance. When your emphasis is on information, you may know a lot about kungfu, such as various techniques to develop internal force and to defend yourself, but still you have no internal force and cannot defend yourself.
Perhaps for this reason, some people cynically say that “those who cannot, teach; those who can, do.” But this cynical statement does not apply to genuine kungfu, because the emphasis is on performance. A good kungfu exponent is one who is healthy and can efficiently defend himself, not one who knows a lot about kungfu information.
This, of course, does not necessarily mean that information is useless in kungfu. Information is very useful, but it should be geared towards practical results.
There are two sets of criteria you can compare your training with. One, you can compare with what kungfu is reputed to produce, such as good health and combat efficiency. Has your training made you healthy and combat efficient?
Of course, you must be fair. You cannot expect to have good results after just a few months of training. But if you have been practising for a few years, and yet you are still sickly and defenceless, you would have wasted your time even though you might have accumulated a lot of kungfu knowledge.
Two, you can compare with the purposes for which you want to practise kungfu. For example, if your purposes are to learn some graceful kungfu movements to loosen your limbs and joints, as well as to demonstrate to friends, you would have achieved your purposes.
To attain good kungfu performance, one needs to practice correctly and diligently
One night, at Sifu Choe Hoong Choy’s house where he taught Wing Choon Kungfu in the garden at the back of his house, Uncle Cheong, a senior disciple of Sifu Choe Hoong Choy and well-respected kungfu master in his own right, visited the school. Some senior students were practising a staff set called Thirteen-Techniques Spear. Despite its name, it was a staff set, and a long tapering staff was used.
The students asked Uncle Cheong, who was an expert of the staff, about the combat application of a pattern called “High Mountain Flows Water”, where a staff was held slantingly away from the practitioner’s body with the head of the staff above the practitioner’s head, and the tapering tail of the staff slanting away almost touching the floor.
Uncle Cheong said, “It can be used to block a low sweeping attack.”
He then asked the student to sweep his legs and he blocked the attack using this pattern, “High Mountain Flows Water”.
Uncle Cheong then turned to me. “Kit Chye,” he said, “How would you use this pattern to block a low sweeping attack?”
“Kit Chye” (杰仔) was the name they called me. Other students would call me “Kit Kor” (杰哥), which means Elder Brother Kit. “Kit Chye” is an endearing term, often used by parents to call their children or elders to call their loved ones. It means “Kit, my lovely boy”.
“Uncle Cheong is an expert of the staff,” I replied indirectly.
“I know you are also an expert of the staff. Tell us one or two secrets.”
“I’m not sure whether I can tell one or two secrets.”
“Let’s ask our sifu.”
Uncle Cheong then turned to Sifu Choe Hoong Choy. “Sifu, would you let Kit Chye to reveal one or two secrets?”
“They are senior students. There’s no harm telling them one or two secrets,” Sifu Choe Hoong Choy said.
I took over the staff from Uncle Cheong, and asked the senior student to attack me with a low sweep.
As he did so, I blocked the attack as Uncle Cheong did earlier, but with the end of the staff gently hitting the attacker’s lower leg.
I asked him to attack again. I performed the same pattern blocking his attack, but this time with the tip of the staff pointing just an inch above a vital point between his lower leg and his foot.
Sifu Choe Hoong Choy and Uncle Cheong smiled noddingly.
“In a real fight,” Uncle Cheong told the student, “Your lower leg would be fractured as soon as you make the attack, or you would not be able to walk as your vital point at the foot would be dotted.”
In Shaolin Wahnam we use kungfu patterns, not kick-boxing, for combat
I have read from your posts in the answers section that genuine Kung Fu is not only learning Kung Fu forms but being able to apply them in combat situations. However, I have found out from personal experience training in Shaolin Kung Fu as well as from your website that the norm today is to revert to bouncing about like kids and using Kickboxing techniques while sparring. Why is this the norm? Is there a reason why it is common place to use Kickboxing techniques while sparring instead of learning how to apply Kung Fu forms?
— Ricky, USA
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
You have touched on a very urgent point in kungfu training today. Yes, it is a norm today that most kungfu practitioners, including many masters, use Kickboxing or other martial art techniques in sparring or fighting. They do not know how to use kungfu techniques for combat though some of them are formidable fighters using Kickboxing or other techniques.
This is a delicate issue, but it is urgent. If this issue is not resolved, the ability to use kungfu for combat may just disappear from the world! Hence, we in Shaolin Wahnam are very serious in doing our part in preventing this happening, even at the risks of being ridiculed and criticized.
Why are most kungfu practitioners today unable to use their kungfu for combat? It is because they have not been taught to do so. Why haven’t their schools or systems taught them kungfu combat? It is because somewhere in their generation line they have lost their sparring methodology. Hence, the majority of kungfu practitioners today — students as well as masters — either do not spar at all, or if they ever spar they use other martial art techniques.
Why is it that they can use other martial art techniques like Kickboxing or Karate in sparring even when they have not learnt these arts, but they cannot use kungfu techniques in sparring when they can perform kungfu techniques in solo practice? It is because Kickboxing and Karate are closer to instinctive or free-style fighting, whereas kungfu is more elaborated.
In other words, even if you have not learnt any martial art, if you fight instinctively, the way you fight looks like Kickboxing and Karate. And if you have seen how Kickboxers and Karate exponents spar, you can more easily imitate their ways of sparring.
On the other hand, even if you have learnt kungfu forms in solo performance but have not learnt how to use them in sparring, you would have great difficulty using them to spar because these kungfu forms involve elaborated stances and movements. Indeed, if you are not trained in kungfu combat, using these forms in sparring would be a liability instead of an asset. Thus, you would discard them for instinctive fighting, which is bouncing about and punching and kicking wildly. When you fight in this way, your movements resemble more like Kickboxing and Karate than kungfu.
Why was sparring methodology lost in most kungfu lineages? There were many reasons. The burning of the Shaolin Temple in the mid 19th century was a crucial factor. In the past the Shaolin Temple was regarded as the pinnacle of kungfu, and acted as a standard of reference. Without this reference point, kungfu as a fighting art deteriorated rapidly.
One important reason for its deterioration as a fighting art was the emergence of firearms which rendered kungfu a hobby instead of a need for survival as in the past.
Another reason was a change of teaching mode. In the past disciples learned from and served a master. If they did not train diligently they might not have their meals. In the 20th century, rich landlords employed kungfu instructors to teach their children and followers. Rich children were not the type who would train diligently, and if they didn’t train, the instructor might not have his meals. So he taught them kungfu forms instead of insisting on force training and drilling them in combat application. When there were gatherings or celebrations, these children would give demonstrations of beautiful kungfu forms, receiving loud applaud, and the landlord, the instructor, the students and all present would be very happy.
In its early years the present Chinese government discouraged traditional arts, including kungfu and chi kung. During the period of the Cultural Revolution in China, practicing kungfu or any traditional art was a cardinal crime. Later, after a change of national policy, kungfu known in Chinese as wushu was re-introduced — not as a fighting art but as a sport.
The various kungfu styles in the past were classified into seven categories, namely Long Fist, Southern Fist, Taijiquan, Knife Techniques, Sword Techniques, Staff Techniques and Spear Techniques. Henceforth, kungfu or wushu was not practiced as Praying Mantis, Eagle Claw, White Crane, Lohan, Monkey, Hoong Ka, Wing Choon, Choy-Li-Fatt, Black Tiger, Lau Ka, Bagua, Hsing Yi, etc, but as the seven categories. There were no sparring and force training, only forms.
Later, probably embarrassed by their inability to defend themselves, kungfu or wushu practitioners attempted free sparring. But they had no methodology. So they imitated sparring in other martial arts. At first they borrowed (or stole) techniques from Karate, then Taekwondo. Now they borrow from Kickboxing.
Not only it has become a norm that the great majority of kungfu (and wushu) practitioners use Kickboxing and Karate in their sparring and fighting, the situation has become ridiculous and pathetic. Many kungfu students and some masters, including world known ones, even claim that kungfu techniques cannot be used for fighting!
Sifu Wong in a Shaolin kungfu pattern called “Single Tiger Emerges from Cave”
Find out what you need to know about aims and objectives before you begin your Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan training
Why do You Practise Kungfu?
One important reason why the standard of kungfu today is generally low is that many people practice kungfu without being aware of their aims and objectives.
If you ask someone who has practiced kungfu for many years why he has done so, it is not uncommon for him to have difficulty finding the real answers.
He may say he practices kungfu for self-defence, for health or for keeping alive a worthy tradition, but on deeper examination he often finds that those are not the real reasons.
This is evident from the fact that despite many years’ training, he cannot defend himself with the kungfu he has learnt, is not as healthy and fit as a typical kungfu exponent recorded in classical kungfu literature, and knows little about kungfu tradition.
The truth is that he has practiced kungfu without any clear set aims and objectives.
Sifu Wong and Goh Kok Hin in combat-ready poses. Sifu Wong attacks with a thrust punch and Goh Kok Hin responds with a tiger-claw
Making Your Training More Rewarding
Obviously, if we are clear about our aims and objectives, our training will be more rewarding. Not only we shall not waste time over unnecessary training, we shall also have a higher level of attainment.
For our purpose here, aims refer to general and long term aspirations, and objectives to measurable and more immediate needs.
There are three aims in all kungfu training:
Health and fitness.
For great kungfu like Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, there are two further aims:
The punch is a feign. As soon as Goh Kok Hin defends, Sifu Wong changes into a snap kick. As Goh Kok Hin strikes the attacking leg with a hand-sweep, Sifu Wong withdraws the leg and executes a side-kick with the other leg
Self Defence, Health and Fitness
Combat efficiency is the first and foremost aim of all kungfu training. The term kungfu, especially as used in the West, means martial art.
It is ironical, therefore, if you practice kungfu (including taijiquan) but do not know how to defend yourself with what you have learnt.
The second aim of kungfu training is health and fitness. Indeed, in our modern societies where fighting seldom happens, this benefit of being healthy and fit is more immediate and important than being able to fight.
But the crucial point is that you will derive the radiant health a typical kungfu exponent of classical kungfu literature manifests, only if you practice kungfu as a martial art. If you practice kungfu dance, you will only get the type of health benefit that a dance can give.
”Lifting Water”, which is an important force training method in Taijiquan, develops tolerance and perseverance as well as mental clarity
Character Development and Spiritual Cultivation
Kungfu training itself is a process of character development.
Qualities like tolerance, endurance and perseverance are developed if you practice kungfu the way past masters did, such as practicing “Golden Bridge”, “Small Universe” or “Lifting Water” everyday for years. Qualities like mental freshness and calmness are pre-requisite if you wish to be a good kungfu fighter.
Great kungfu like Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan is more than a mere fighting art. Both Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan expand the mind and leads ultimately to spiritual fulfillment.
Meditation, known as chan (zen) in Shaolin Kungfu and jing-zhou (silent-sitting) in Taijiquan, is an essential aspect in all levels of these two arts, although it is emphasized at the advanced levels, and although not many people today may be aware of this fact. Actually, the original aim of Bodhidharma and of Zhang San Feng, the First Patriarch of Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan respectively, when they first initiated the arts, was spiritual cultivation.
Taijiquan is an internal art excellent for combat as well as spiritual cultivation. Here Goh Kok Hin grips Sifu Wong’s arm.
Setting Measurable Objectives
Besides being clear of our general aims and consciously strive to achieve them, it is helpful to set measurable objectives for more immediate needs.
In order to attain the general aim of combat efficiency, we may set objectives like developing powerful arms and agile footwork, and mastering defence techniques against common attacks.
We may, for example, set aside one year to practise how to counter the various kicking attacks typically executed by Taekwondo and Siamese Boxing exponents.
To attain good health and fitness, we may train the Shaolin art of ‘One-Finger Shooting Zen’ or the Taijiquan art of ‘Three-Circle Stance’ everyday for six months as our set objectives.
After the six month period we can assess whether we have been successful in meeting our objectives by using measurable tests like checking whether we are now comparatively free from cold and fever which we used to have, and whether we can comfortably block our seniors’ attacks in sparring practice when previously we could do so only with difficulty.
Sifu Wong applies the Taijiquan technique “Cross-Hands Thrust Kick” which not only releases the opponent’s grip but also counter-attacks him at the same time.
Enriching our Lives
Setting objectives like increasing our endurance and perseverance levels from a minute to five minutes over a period of six months in zhang-zhuang (stance-standing) training can be readily combined with the objectives of developing internal force.
It will be useful to check whether we have also transferred these qualities to our daily life, such as examining ourselves to see whether our disciplined kungfu training has made us more tolerable to other people and more capable of facing demanding tasks.
The various meditation methods in Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan enhances our mind and spirit. (In eastern philosophy the mind and spirit are often regarded as one.) We may, for instance, set objectives like enhancing our mental clarity so that we can comprehend a problem in five minutes when it took half an hour in the past.
Hence, if we are clear about what we intend to achieve in our kungfu training by setting aims and objectives, we can not only get more benefits from our practice in shorter time, but also enrich our as well as other people’s lives.
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.
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 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
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.