Why is Shaolin Kungfu more effective in combat than other martial arts?
– Tomas, United Kingdom
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
We can derive a good answer from my own experience.
In my younger days, as now over 70 I still consider myself young, I actually went out to look for sparring opponents to test my combat efficiency. I soon discovered that when I used techniques which were also found in other martial arts, like Black Tiger Steals Heart which is a thrust punch, and Happy Bird Hops up Branch which is a side-kick, my opponents of other martial arts could defend readily. But when I used techniques not found in their martial arts, like Lohan Tames Tiger and Rising Dragon and Galloping Tiger, my opponents would have difficulty defending.
The underlying philosophy, which occurred to me not at the time of sparring but much later, was quite obvious. If techniques A, B, C, D were found in their martial arts, and you used A, B, C, D against them, they would know how to defend. If techniques P, Q, R were not found in their martial arts, and you used P, Q, R against them, they would not know how to defend.
When you attacked your opponent, you must make sure he could not attack you at the same time. This was not difficult for me because “safety first” was a cardinal principle in my kungfu training. I always covered my opponents before attacking them, and as I used attacking techniques that they did not know, I always beat them.
Skills are more important than techniques in combat. Even when your techniques are superior, but if your opponent is more skilful, like he is faster and more powerful, he will still beat you. I did not realise this important principle at first. I only differentiated between skills and techniques much later. But I overcame this problem because initially I chose opponents who were of a same level as or lower level than me. Later when my combat skills improved, but still without consciously knowing the difference between skills and techniques, my choice of opponents became more liberal.
Another very important factor in combat is force, especially internal force. When I had developed remarkable internal force, I found that I could not only defeat opponents more easily but also opponents who were younger and bigger-sized than me.
A significant factor contributing to victory in combat is the application of tactics and strategies, which are rich in Shaolin Kungfu but not frequently found in other martial arts. At first I was unaware of combat tactics and strategies, but they were already incorporated in the combat sequences I used. Later with better understanding of combat tactics and strategies, my combat efficiency improved.
Hence, the many reason why Shaolin Kungfu is more combat effective than many other martial arts are a rich range of combat techniques not found in other martial arts, the focus of developing skills in genuine Shaolin training, the development and use of internal force in combat, and the application of combat tactics and skills.
What benefits you can find in Shaolin Kungfu that cannot be found in other martial arts?
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
An excellent answer was supplied by Kai (Sifu Kai Uwe Jettkandt, Chief Instructor of Shaolin Wahnam Germany), who was already a world known martial art master and an international all-style free sparring champion before he learned from me.
Kai told many Shaolin Wahnam members that he practiced Shaolin Kungfu because it fulfilled to a very high-level all the three attainments he looked for in any martial art — good health, combat efficiency and spiritual cultivation. Kai explained that many martial arts were good for fighting but bad for health. Some martial arts were good for health, but not effective for combat and lacked spiritual cultivation. Shaolin Kungfu has all these attainments to a very high level.
One can have these three attainments irrespective of his age. In many other martial arts, as a person ages, his health and combat efficiency are affected. But in Shaolin Kungfu, a practitioner actually becomes healthier and more combat efficient.
Many Shaolin Wahnam members told me that they were healthier and fitter at 50 than they were at 30. In many other martial arts, as a person becomes older, his strength and stamina become weaker, and therefore his combat ability is less efficient. But due to internal force which is independent of age, size and gender, and which also contributes much to his health, vitality and longevity, he becomes more combat efficient as he grows older.
Shaolin Kungfu is extremely rich in philosophy, which records the essence of centuries of past masters. Not only the combat tactics and strategies enable present Shaolin practitioners to be more combat efficient, its philosophy enriches their daily life.
Not many people may realize that Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan are the only two martial arts that originated from spiritual cultivation. All other martial arts gear towards fighting. Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of the Shaolin arts, and Zhang San Feng, the first patriarch of Taijiquan, practiced their arts to attain Zen or Tao, which in Western language means return to God the Holy Spirit.
If you have any questions, please e-mail them to Grandmaster Wong via his Secretary at email@example.com stating your name, country and e-mail address.
Kungfu practitioners do not have internal force and cannot apply their kungfu for combat not because they do not know the technique but because they do not have the skill
When I first learned the Horse-Riding Stance, it was at the form level. This is the normal introduction to kungfu for almost all kungfu practitioners. In other words, when people first start to learn kungfu, almost all of them would start with kungfu form. Only a few, because of various reasons, may start with skill, application or philosophy.
For example, after being amazed by a master’s vitality despite his age, a person may ask, “Sifu, you are so full of vitality. Can you please teach me how to have half your vitality, or even a quarter?”
If the master is generous, he may teach him the Three-Circle Stance, and then say, “Practise this every day for a year.”
If this person, unlike 90% of other people who may ask a similar question, practises the Three-Circle Stance every day for a year, he may have a quarter of the master’s vitality. In this case, this student starts his introduction to kungfu through skill, though he still needs form to develop his skill, and he may not realise that he is taught kungfu.
Our Shaolin Wahnam students are an exception. When they start to learn kungfu or chi kung from us, they are introduced to all the four dimensions of form, skill, application and philosophy. When our students learn kungfu, they do not just learn the form, but also the skill of right spacing and right timing, applying the kungfu patterns for attack and defence, and how their kungfu training can enrich their daily life. When our students learn chi kung, they do not just learn the form, they also generate an energy flow, feel fresh and energetic, and know why chi flow contributes to their good health, vitality and longevity.
Not only kungfu and chi kung, but all arts, ranging from the simple art of asking your secretary to write a letter to sending a ship into space, may be classified into the four dimensions of form, skill, application and philosophy. Understanding these four dimensions and putting them into practice will enhance any art we practise, and more significantly our daily life.
Most kungfu practitioners focus only on form, neglecting the other three dimensions. If these four dimensions are of equal importance, they can at best have only 25% of the potential benefits. But in reality, these dimensions are not of equal importance. Form constitutes technique, and is generally less important than skill and application. Philosophy provides a map showing the routes and destinations.
A salesperson earning $2000 a month and another earning $20,000 a month use the same form, or technique, but their skill level is vastly different. More important in making their life meaningful is how they apply their earning. Whether they use the $2000 or $20,000 for liquor and gambling, or for making their family happy depends much on their philosophy.
Failing to differentiate between skill and technique is a main reason why most kungfu practitioners today cannot apply their kungfu for combat, and why many chi kung practitioners are not healthy and full of vitality. It is also a main reason why in my book, “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”, I mention that more than 90% of Tai Chi Chuan practitioners today are getting less than 10% of its potential benefits.
While Shaolin Wahnam students have all the dimensions introduced to them when they first learn kungfu or chi kung, it took me more than 20 years since first learning kungfu to realise these dimensions. Considering that most kungfu and chi kung practitioners do not realise this useful classification at all, 20 years is a short time.
This useful classification did not happen all at once. It was evolved, and it is rewarding to trace its evolution historically.
A section of my library of kungfu, chi kung and other books which provided me with a sound understanding of their philosophy