The big irony is that many martial artists are unhealthy and are unable to defend themselves. Here Evelyn and Sifu Leonard apply Shaolin Kungfu in combat.
“The big irony is that many martial artists are unhealthy and are unable to defend themselves despite spending many years training a martial art! Not only they injure themselves in free sparring and their injuries are routinely left unattended to, the way they train is usually detrimental to both their physical, emotional and spiritual health. Many people may be surprised at my statements that many martial artists today cannot defend themselves. If they can, they accept being hit and kicked for granted as part of their training.” — Quoted from Grandmaster Wong’s answer.
May I ask, sifu, should one avoid being hit altogether? How? What about in the sense of blocking? I suppose it is better to avoid contact than to have to block? When I practice blocks with my friend my arms are often sore/ bruised but we figured this would toughen us. I am grateful for your instruction Sifu,
— Lee, USA
Of course one should avoid being hit altogether. That is the main purpose of practicing an art of self-defence. That is also the main reason why I said people who freely exchanged blows in free sparring were not learning a martial art though they thought they did.
How does one avoid being hit? That is what he learns in a martial art, any martial art. Thee are two categories to accomplish this.
One category is to ward off the attack. There are many ways of warding off. Blocking an attack as described by you where your arm become sore or bruised is third-class. In first-class warding off you use minimum force to overcome maximum strength.
The second category of avoiding hit is to dodge the attack. There are also many ways of dodging.
You will learn these first-class responses to avoid being hit in the Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course or the Intensive Taijiquan Course.
Having your arms sored or bruised from blocking is a poor way to toughen your arms. It is more likely to weaken your arms than to toughen them. A sore or bruised arm is painful and injured. Pain and injry weaken a person, not just his arms.
There are many excellent methods in our school for strengthening arms. Some examples are One-Finger Shooting Zen, Golden Bridge, Separating Water, and even Grasping Sparrowâ€™s Tail. The uninitiated may wonder how these exercises, especially Grasping Sparrowâ€™s Tail, can strengthen arms. Not only they do, they are excellent â€“ if practiced correctly.
Please take note that toughening, in the sense of conditioning, may not necessary be strengthening. If you punch your fist onto a wall, for example, you may toughen or condition your knuckles, but may not necessary add power to your punch. Hence, when we practice Thirty Punches, which is an exercise to increase power of the punch, we punch into empty space, and not onto a sandbag.
I would like to continue to strengthen my stances. I can see the difference between someone who knows many forms but wobbles on their legs and someone who has powerful stances but few forms.
What would be the you-wei and the wu-wei of horse stance? Right now I try to imagine my self relaxing and letting my chi sink to my feet. I can tell when I get tense that it rises up to my torso and chest but if I relax I can sink it down and hold the floor with my toes better.
Stances are very important in kungfu, and their benefits are transferred to daily life. Stances develop internal force and mental clarity.
The “you-wei” part of stance training consists of two steps. The first step is to get the poise correct. In the Horse-Riding Stance, for example, ensure that you are upright. The second step is to relax, relax and relax.
The “wu-wei” part is to be spontaneous. Don’t think of anything, including not imagining yourself relaxing and letting your chi sink to your feet. Just spontaneously remain upright and relaxed in your stance.
Stances are very important in kungfu training. Grandmaster Wong showed the importance of waist rotation in a Bow-Arrow Stance during a kungfu class in Madrid.
My wonderful girlfriend told me that she wanted to fast during Ramadan this year. She told me it was all about discipline and being spiritual. My initial thought and feeling was concern when I heard this. Personally I know little about Ramadan but I don’t see the spiritual side to forcing oneself to stay off food. Of course I could be wrong. Should I be concerned here? I always want to support her in whatever she wishes to do but I also want her to be safe as this is my natural instinct to protect her.
— Sifu Mark Hartnett, Ireland
Rituals of any religion help practitioners to practice their faith and thus purify their spirit. If a practitioner has strong spiritual roots, like a Zen monk, he may not need rituals yet attain high spiritual levels.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan also purifies the body, which contributes to purification of the spirit. If your girlfriend understands these deeper meaning, fasting during Ramadan is good for her. On the other hand, there are religious fanatics who follow religious rituals but act in a way God or whatever term the Supreme Reality is addressed asks his followers not to do.
If your girlfriend wishes to fast, ask her to prepare herself if it is the first time she attempts it. Her body needs time to adjust to fasting.
Fasting demands discipline, and is spiritual as it purifies both the body and the spirit. It is natural that you are concerned for her. A good approach is to tell her the significance of fasting and let her make her choice. As she is not a Muslim, she needs not fast the whole month of Ramadan, or during part of it. She can fasts for any day or two to make some adjustment and preparation.
I have been very lucky to spend time with a Hoong Ka master, and he emphasizes a lot of Asking Bridge to develop sensing skills for sparring. Whenever I spar with him and some of his senior students, their sensing skills are such that he is often able to simply “slip” out of my attempts to tame or close his hands unless I have superior force and chin-na.
— Frederick, USA
The Hoong Ka master defeated you because of skills and not because of techniques. Even if you use other techniques, he will still be able to defeat you.
This does not mean that techniques are not important. When he slips away, you can strike his retreating arm, or kick his leg.
You can also improve your skills of “bridging gap” and “follow-through”. When he tries to escape from your taming or closing hand, you “follow-through” with your taming or closing hand, and bridge the gap of his retreat. You should spend some time practicing on your own before applying the skills on your opponents.
Grandmaster Wong employs a pattern from Hoong Ka Kungfu, called Southern Shaolin in our school, in combat application
My attempts to simply close someone with a taming or pressing palm are generally defeated by my sparring partner simply turning their body into the Unicorn Stance or retreating if they have superior footwork to me. Is there an aspect of taming/closing an opponent that I miss, or should all attempts to tame or close an opponent use chin-na to “confirm” the taming/closing?
No, you have not missed the basic techniques of taming and closing, though you may not have learned sophisticated techniques of following through, like using chin-na to subdue your opponents.
But you attended the Baguazhang course at the UK Summer Camp. There are a lot of techniques and tactics you can use from the Baguazhang course to defeat your opponent when he turns aside into a Unicorn Step or when he retreats.
When he turns aside into a Unicron Step, for example, you can employ your Baguazhang footwork to follow his turning and strike him, or you can go to the other side and fell him from behind. When he retreats, you can rush forward, but taking care of your own safety, and push him off the arena, or you can jump forward with “Wild Crane Kicks Leg”.
It is not necessary to use chin-na to confirm taming or closing, but for one trained in chin-na, it is an excellent way to subdue opponents. When a chin-na master wishes to apply a chin-na grip on his opponent, it is unlikely the opponent could escape.
How would you recommend approaching sparring with someone who has superior sensitivity skills? I have had some success with using the “disappearing” that I discussed with you last year in sparring, which sometimes gives me opportunities, but I know that there are certain people I have met who can always notice me, so I do not want to rely too much on such an ability; I would personally rather have more solid fundamentals than rely on such a “trick.”
There are two main approaches. One is to avoid his sensing skills. Using kicks, for example, is a good tactic. Instead of having arm contact, you can kick at him.
The other approach indicates the hallmark of a master. Change his sensing skills, which are his strong points, to his weakness. Chin-na and dim mak are excellent in this respect.
Sifu Tim uses his leg to neutralize a groin attack from Frederick in a Baguazhang combat application
Another situation that I run across in sparring is sparring partners who have a lot of muscular strength. My usual tactic is to “borrow” my sparring partner’s force and use soft counters to conserve my energy and to guide their force away into emptiness so that I can set up a decisive strike, mainly using Baguazhang strategies and movements from the Swimming Dragon set and adding a Baguazhang “flavor” to the Hoong Ka I am learning here.
Dim mark is excellent for overcoming opponents with a lot of muscular strength, but you need to learn dim mak at a course from a master willing to teach you.
Many kungfu styles are well-known for the smaller-sized to defeat the bigger and stronger, and Baguazahgn is one of them. You can use Baguazhang techniques and tactics to get to an opponent’s side or back to strike him.
Sometimes, however, my sparring partners will “lock up” with a lot of tension and will not “give” me any force to work with, and I find that very difficult to handle. I can handle the situation usually with a combination of superior agility (getting to their sides or back, or simply feinting and striking a different body part) and stamina (simply outlasting their muscular tension), but I do not know if there is a better way to approach this sort of situation.
Don’t use force against force if your opponent is physically stronger.
All the methods you mentioned are excellent.
You can get to your opponent’s back to fell him. Don’t fell him with brutal strength. Off-balance him, and he falls easily.
You can also strike his vital spots, like his eyes, throat and sexual organ. But of course you stop an inch from target.
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.
Sifu Andrew Barnett and his son, Bjoem, demonstrating Shaolin Kungfu in combat application
I have participated in a few of the local schools and can not find one to my liking. I have received a black belt in Kung fu and at this time I do not feel like I deserve it due to my lack of practice and not improving myself in my skills. Can you please send me any information that you may have?
— Joe, USA
Answer by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
At all times in all places real kungfu masters are rare. In China in the past there were many kungfu masters but very few of them would accept students. Today many people teach kungfu, or what they call kungfu, but finding a genuine master is more difficult than finding a gem in a hay stack. Refer to Qualities of a Good Master for details.
What is taught all over the world today, including in China, is either a modernized form for demonstration or a debased traditional form that uses karate, taekwondo or kickboxing techniques for combat. In my opinion neither is genuine kungfu.
This does not necessarily mean that these demonstrative or debased forms are not without their benefits. They are magnificient to watch and is an excellent way to keep the exponents agile and fit, but they are not the same as the kind of kungfu traditionally taught in the past.
In my opinion, the bottom line to decide whether one is trained in genuine kungfu is whether he (or she) can use the kungfu forms he has learnt for some decent self defence. If he can fight well but uses other martial art forms instead of kungfu forms, he does not qualify to have practised genuine kungfu.
The bottom line of my definition is that the kungfu he has learnt must be capable of being used for fighting, even if he loses the fight. The crucial point is that his kungfu forms are more than sufficient for his self defence; he needs not borrow or “steal” other martial art forms, and he should be able to defend himself in a typical kungfu manner. Bouncing about as in boxing and kicking high as in taekwondo, for example, are not typical manners in kungfu fighting.
Good kungfu goes beyond mere fighting. One characteristic feature of good kungfu is the training of internal force for good health as well as combat efficiency. If you ask what internal force is, it is unlikely you have any experience in its training. It is like someone who has not eaten an orange, asking what the taste of an orange is.
As far as I know, this internal force training is not found in most other martial arts. Western boxing and wrestling, for example, pay much attention to external strength and physical mass, and their exponents train in ways which typical kungfu masters would consider detrimental to health.
Some Eastern martial arts like aikido and karate mention about internal aspects like chi (or ki in Japanese), but their exponents do not spend as much time or go as deeply as typical kungfu exponents do in these internal aspects. A typical traditional kungfu exponent, for example, may actually spend more time practising Abdominal Breathing or Stance Standing (zhan zhuang) than practising patterns or sets — a practice that is not normally found in most other martial arts or modern demonstrative, debased kungfu forms.
The best kungfu, like Shaolin and Taijiquan, goes beyond the physical and leads to spiritual cultivation irrespective of race, culture and religion. The onus of spiritual cultivation is direct experience, not mere talking or book learning, and is practised according to the students’ developmental levels.
For those who have so far wasted their time in unwholesome activities, or those who feel empty and lost despite abundant material wealth, turning to a happy, rewarding life here and now is a remarkable spiritual achievement; at the other scale, the spiritually advanced aim for the highest attainment known variously as return to God, unity with the Cosmos, enlightenment or in Zen terms simply going home.
A magnificient demonstration of modern wushu, which is different from traditional kungfu
Reproduced from Questions 1 in Selection of Questions and Answers March 1998
Past masters took many years to attain energy flowing at the five levels, but we can attain this in just four hours! How is it possible?
— Lukas, Germany
This is ridiculous but true.
There are two main reasons.
Past masters did not differentiate between techniques and skills, whereas we do. They practiced any techniques they were taught when they were students. When conditions were ideal, they developed the necessary skills, often without their conscious knowing. These ideal conditions happened infrequently even when they practice every day. Over a long period, like after many years, they accumulated enough results, which happened haphazardly, to feel energy flowing at these five levels.
Let us take an analogy. In this course, many students come from other countries, like from England, Austria and Holland. If they do not have the right techniques, like a car or a train, and do not have the right skills, like traveling along the correct routes, but just travel haphazardly even they travel everyday they will take many years to arrive at Frankfurt if they ever do. But they took only a few hours to arrive because they have the right techniques and the right skills, i.e. they drove a car or took a train, and travelled along the right routes.
Secondly, instead of developing the necessary skills on their own, which would take at least few months, I transmitted the skills to them so that they could get the benefits immediately.
Is there any difference between Golden Bridge and Bone Marrow Cleansing at Muscle Level in developing internal force?
Yes, there is some difference. The force developed in Golden Bridge is colsolidated, whereas the force developed in Bone Marrow Cleansing at Muscle Level is relatively more flowing.
It is significant to note that the comparison is relative. Bone Marrow Cleansing at Muscle Level is more consolidated than many other methods of force training, but compared to Golden Bridge it is more flowing.
As a rough guide the proportions of consolidating and flowing are as follows in the following force training methods.
Golden Bridge 90-10
Bone Marrow Cleansing at Muscle Level 85-15
Iron Wire 80-20
Flower Set 50-50
108-Pattern Yang Style Taijiquan 10-90
This list is flexible and serves as a rough guide. It varies according to many factors, like the mood, knowledge and ability of a practitioner. In our chase, we can vary the proportion according to our wish. We may, for example, practice Iron Wire with a proportion of 20% consolidating and 80% flowing.
There is also a difference between the time needed between Golden Bridge and Bone Marrow Cleansing at Muscle Level to develop internal force.
If one takes 15 minutes to develop a certain amount of internal force in Golden Bridge, he takes only 10 minutes to develop the same amount in Bone Marrow Cleansing at Muscle Level. This again is only a rough guide, and may vary due to different factors.
Nevertheless, as revealed just now by practitioners who had trained in both methods (during a Bone Marrow Cleansing Course in Germany in Sept 2014) that although they found Bone Marrow Cleansing at Muscle Level more forceful, they still preferred Golden Bridge. The important lesson is that being better and preference are not necessary the same, and this important lesson is applicable in daily life.
Some men may find other women more beautiful than their wives, but they still prefer their wives. Some women know that other men earn more money than their husbands, but they still prefer their husbands.
Grandmaster Wong’s youngest son, Wong Chun Yian, performing the Golden Bridge
Is our Bone Marrow Cleansing the same as Bone Marrow Cleansing taught by Bodhidharma?
It is not the same. But we still use the term “Bone Marrow Cleansing” in honour of Bodhidharma.
Bodhisharma’s Bone Marrow Cleansing referred to four levels of his teaching on spiritual development. Our Bone Marrow Cleansing refers to five levels of energy flow in energy development.
In other words, by following Bodhidharma’s teaching, practitioners developed their spirit at four levels, figuratively described as the levels of the skin, the flesh, the bone and the bone marrow. The legend of Hui Ke receiving Bodhidharma’s teaching describes this development. By following our teaching in the Bone Marrow Course, practitioners develop their energy flow at five levels, more literally described as the levels of the skin, the muscles, the meridians, the internal organs and the bone marrow.
Why do we use five levels of energy flow and not four or any other number? It is because past masters discovered through the ages that there were five levels of energy flow. When people practiced chi kung successfully — genuine chi kung and not gentle physical exercise as is mostly practiced nowadays — after some time, which might range from a year to a few years, they found energy flowing at their skin level. After Some time, the energy flowed at their muscle level, then at their meridian level. After some time the energy flowing at their meridian level entered their internal organs. Eventually the energy flowed at their bone marrow level.
Depending on various factors, from the time they started practicing chi kung to the time the energy flowed at their bone marrow level might ranged from five to twenty years. This happened only to those who succeeded in their training, and they formed a minority. Most practitioners would not have progressed this far, even when they practice genuine chi kung.
In our case, the term “Bone Marrow Cleansing at Muscle Level” can be misleading. It may be more exact to call it “Developing Internal Force at Muscle Level” as this actually describes the skill and the result. Or we may call it “Consolidating Energy at Muscle Level”, as a lot of energy is consolidated at the muscles though it is still flowing. Nevertheless, we call it “Bone Marrow Cleansing at Muscle Level” as it is the second level of our Bone Marrow Cleansing Course.
Can we practice different levels in the same session of Bone Marrow Cleansing?
Yes, you can although generally you will get better results by practicing just one level per session.
If you practice more than one level, you need not repeat the techniques for the subsequent levels. You only need the gentle visualization. Secondly you can practice the various levels in any order, not necessary in ascending order.
Let’s say you wish to practice Bone Marrow Cleansing at the levels of the meridians and the skin. You can start with Pushing Mountain, and direct your energy to flow along the meridians. When you are satisfied with this level of energy flow, you just direct energy to flow along your skin. You need not perform Lifting the Sky to generate energy flow at the skin level, you just use your visualization when you are in a chi kung state of mind. If you wish to perform Lifting the Sky, you can also do do.
The nature of training is different in kungfu and chi kung. Hence, one may train longer in kungfu and not be over-trained though its training methods are more powerful
You recommend only 15 minutes in chi kung training but an hour in kungfu training. Can you please elaborate?
The force training in kungfu is usually more powerful than the force training in chi kung. So, will you be over-training if you practice kungfu for an hour, whereas it is recommended that you practice only for 15 minutes in chi kung?
No, it is because the nature of kungfu training is different from that in chi kung training. In kungfu training, besides developing force you also perform a lot of mobile activities like set practice and combat application. These mobile activities spread your force so that you will not be over-trained, even when you have more energy at the end of the training session than before.
But if you just perform force training in kungfu for more than 15 minutes, like just practice zhan zhuang, One-finger Shooting Zen and Lifting Water, unless you have spent some time in the training to progress gradually so that you body can take the extra energy, you will be over-training.
In chi kung training, you only perform force development. Practicing more than 15 minutes of force development may be over-training as your physical body is not ready to take the extra energy.
Can we practice the Three-Circle Stance in the Horse-Riding Stance instead of the Goat Stance, and practice the Golden Bridge in the Goat Stance instead of the Horse-Riding Stance?
— Oliver, France
Yes, you can.
Indeed, in the past many Taijiquan practitioners performed carrying the Cosmos, which was the hand form in the Three-Circle Stance, in the Horse-Riding Stance instead of the Goat Stance.
Some practitioners perform Golden Bridge in the Goat Stance instead of the Horse-Riding Stance.
The effects are different. Carrying the Cosmos in the Horse-Riding Stance produces more internal force than in the Goat Stance. Practicing Golden Bridge in the Goat Stance is more relaxing than in the Horse-Riding Stance.
I am troubled by a neurosis. Whenever, for example, I’m about to sit down or settle somewhere, I always have to check that there are no visible life forms present, like bugs, so that I won’t crush them. I base this on the principle that all lives are equal. But is this the truth? Can I safely sit down without always checking, or do I have to try my best to avoid killing anything?
— Jussi, USA
No, it is not true that all lives are equal. The lifespan of a bug, for example, is only a few months, whereas the lifespan of a human is many years. A bug does not have the opportunity to practice chi kung, whereas a human has. If he practices chi kung, i.e. genuine chi kung, and not merely gentle physical exercise which many people mistake for chi kung, he will live longer, healthier and with more vitality.
It is also not necessary true that you will crush a bug when you sit down. I actually don’t know how bugs feel, but I reckon that a bug would feel warm and comfortable when the soft part of your body rests on it. So sit down comfortably whenever you want to.
Your problem is not just crushing a bug or warming it. Your problem is certainly more series. I would strongly recommend you to attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course. Please see my website at http://www.shaolin.org for more details, and apply to my secretary at email@example.com for registration.
I usually asked people with such problems to practice genuine chi kung, but from experience I have found that many of them end up with gentle physical exercise that does not overcome their problems. To save you time and effort, I ask you straightaway to attend my Intensive Chi Kung Course. You will not only overcome your neurosis and other health problems if you have, you will also find life more joyful and meaningful.
Do you recommend physical exercise or is Chi Kung enough for overcoming depression and anxiety? If so, what kind of exercise would be the best?
Just practicing high-level chi kung is enough for overcoming depression and anxiety. It is not necessary to practice physical exercise or take food supplement.
Please take note of two important points: it must be genuine chi kung, and it must be of a high level. Genuine high-level chi kung is of course very rare nowadays.
It is not what chi kung techniques one should practice, but how he practices them that is important. The same chi kung techniques can be practiced as low-level chi kung, or as gentle physical exercise which is not chi kung at all.
Not many people can actually understand the above two statements even when they understand the dictionary meaning of all the words. An analogy may make the two statements clearer.
It is not what swimming techniques or surgery techniques one performs, but how well or badly he performs them that is important. The same techniques can be performed as low-level swimming or surgery, or not swimming or surgery at all.
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.