Wei Foong, Peter, Attilio, my wife and Siew Foong at the Italian Riviera with the Mediterranean Sea behind
Back in Italy in Attilio’s hotel after some chi kung courses, Pio, an elderly aristocrat who has attended all my chi kung courses in Finale Ligure every year, invited me and Attilio to his huge mansion in the countryside near Siena.
“Sifu,” Pio said, “We shall also go to San Gimignano to have the best ice-cream in the world.”
Every Italian would say Italian ice-cream was the best, I thought to myself.
Attilio and I went to San Gimignano to wait for Pio to take us to his mansion. San Gimignano was a pretty ancient town with two famous ice-cream parlours reputed to sell the best ice-cream in the world. We sat waiting for Pio at an old village well at the centre of the village square.
Attilio was pacing up and down, deep in thoughts. Then he turned to me.
“Sifu, while waiting we may have some ice-cream.”
“That’s an excellent idea,” I told Attilio.
Attilio got me and himself a cone each with three gigantic scoops of ice-cream. I had eaten a lot of ice-cream all over the world coming in different containers, from sticks and cones to cups and boxes. But this was really the best ice-cream I had taken, without any doubt it was more delicious than any other by a big margin. I really enjoyed every lick of it.
After finishing the delicious ice-cream, we waited and waited, but Pio did not turn up. Attilio was again pacing about at the village well, deep in thoughts.
Eventually he said to me, “Sifu, what about another helping?”
Although I love ice-cream, the three scoops were so big that normally they would be enough. But they were so mouth-watering that I did not hesitate to say, “Yes! We must have another helping.”
Again, Attilio got me and himself each another three gigantic scoops of ice-cream, and we slowly enjoyed every lick of them.
But Pio still had not arrived. Again, Attilio was pacing up and down near the well, deep in thoughts. He could not hold himself any longer. At last he said to me, “Sifu, I think we should have a third helping.”
“Yes, you’re perfectly right! We should have a third helping,” I quickly added.
My wife in the ancient town of Finale Ligure in Italy
Many problems or misunderstanding arise because of confusion between facts and opinions. Logically, if you can differentiate between facts and opinions, you will be able to avoid or overcome many of these problems and misunderstanding.
What is even more important is that often opinion, or perception, is more influential than fact, or reality, in shaping our future. This does not mean we can ignore facts, but we must realize that a person’s perception of reality rather than the reality itself is more potent in determining the outcome of an event. Failure to appreciate this often results in problems and misunderstandings which can be avoided or overcome if we have clear perception.
Let us start with a story. A sifu asked a student to practice “One-Finger Shooting Zen”. A week passed, a month passed, two years passed, and the student was still practicing “One-Finger Shooting Zen” daily, while his sifu hardly taught him anything else.
This was a real story, the story of my sifu, Ho Fatt Nam, when he learned from my sigung, Yeong Fatt Khun. The daily practice of “One-Finger Shooting Zen” enabled my sifu to develop tremendous force not only for Dim Mak (an advanced kungfu art of dotting vital points) but also to heal people.
My sifu had a good perception. He promised himself that if he met a great master, he would do exactly what the master taught. Most other students would drop out. They had different perceptions. They probably thought that the master was fooling them. The reality was the same, a sifu asking his student to practice “One-Finger Shooting Zen” and hardly teaching him anything else, but due to different perceptions the results could be vastly different.
You can see the same principle operating in daily life though many people may not realize it. You are given a difficult job by your boss. Because you are a Shaolin Wahnam student and view everything the Shaolin Wahnam way (instead of the negative way), you perceive your difficult job as an interesting challenge and do your best. As a result you later gain a promotion – by your boss or by yourself becoming your own boss after having gone through challenging training.
Most other people in the same situation would have different perceptions. Some would try to pass the job to someone else, like you, knowing that they would still get the same pay. Others might do the job grudgingly and produce mediocre or poor result. The reality is the same – a difficult job to be done – but due to different perceptions of the same reality, the outcome can be very different.
Can the perception be always positive? Can there be any events, persons or beliefs that are so negative that you can’t have any positive perception of them?
One-Finger Shooting Zen is a treasure of Shaolin Wahnam
Yes, perception can always be positive if you choose to. It is your choice.
No, there are no events, persons or beliefs which are by themselves so negative that you can’t have a positive perception of. We are talking about perception, not the reality itself. In reality the event, person or belief can be negative, but you still can have a positive perception of it.
Suppose you have lost a lot of money in a bad investment. This is reality. No matter how you perceive it, you cannot change the fact that you have lost a lot of money. But your perception of this negative event will certainly and strongly affect what and how your future will enfold.
We may broadly generalize your possible perceptions into three categories: negative, neutral and positive.
You may perceive yourself as stupid, and you become depressed. You may perceive that the fault actually lies with your wife, who nags you, and you become angry. These are negative perceptions. And it is not difficult to see how miserable these negative perceptions will make you.
You may perceive it as a way of life, sometimes you lose, sometimes you gain. Or you may perceive that losing money is a price everyone pays to learn about investment. These are neutral perceptions. You may be down for awhile, but eventually you can get over it.
You may perceive it philosophically, regarding it a blessing in disguise. It is a wake-up call: you lose money in investment, not in drugs or gambling, which may make you addicted and is far worse. Or you may perceive it as a drastic learning opportunity. You promise yourself that eventually you will make back many times that money in an honest, wholesome way. These are positive perceptions that will lead to eventual success. Indeed, many people owe their success, spiritual or financial, to some initial setbacks.
If we just think of good things, are we just dreaming? No, we are not just dreaming. We dare to dream, but we are ready and capable of putting in effort to make our dreams come true. Our Shaolin Wahnam training gives us mental clarity that enables us to have noble perceptions, and tremendous energy that enables us to put in the necessary effort.
Thoughts create reality. This is a great cosmic truth taught by ancient masters and confirmed by modern scientists. An electron is a particle or a wave depending on how the investigating scientist thinks about it. The Buddha teaches that karma, which means cause and effect, is the result of thoughts, speech and deeds in that order of importance.
So, whatever events, persons, beliefs, problems or difficulties you interact with, always have positive perceptions of them. Try it out for a month, and examine the result yourself. If you find it beneficial use this New Year gift for this year and every year.
Many people were very kind to regard me as a kungfu genius. Only a few people knew that I was called a child prodigy long before that. I knew how to read Chinese even at the age of three due to my father’s and mother’s informal coaching.
One day, soon after my recovery from my long illness after falling into a huge monsoon drain, my parents took me to see my father’s friend who was a restaurant stall owner at the New Life Plaza at Cintra Street in Penang. The New Life Plaza has now given way to residential flats, but in the 1940s and 1950s, it was busy with hawker stalls.
My father was talking with his friend who was chopping barbequed meat for his customers. I couldn’t recollect what their conversation was, but I could remember my father saying I could read Chinese, which is a formidable feat even for adult learners as the Chinese written language does not have an alphabet and readers have to recognise each one by itself of at least a few hundred characters.
“What, a small boy of three can read Chinese!” The restaurant owner found it hard to believe.
“Yes, that’s true,” my father replied.
“I can’t believe it!”
“You can test my son.”
“Well, boy,” my father’s friend looked at me kindly. “Can you tell me these characters?” He pointed to a row of big Chinese characters on his signboard.
“Yeit ting ho fan tim (一定好饭店).” I read each Chinese character loudly and slowly. They meant “Certainly-Good Restaurant”.
The man was astounded.
“Just three years old, and you can read Chinese characters! A real child prodigy!”
He promptly cut a large piece of “char siew”, which literally means “fork-barbeque”, i.e. a piece of meat that was being forked to be barbequed, hanging in a showcase in front of his restaurant, and passed it to me.
“Child prodigy, please enjoy this piece of char siew,” he graciously said.
Years later, when I told my wife this old story, she went to town and on her return, she gave me a nice piece of barbequed meat.
“Child prodigy,” my wife said, “Please enjoy this piece of char siew.”
My father and mother, myself and my wife, my sister and her husband, and my three eldest children in the 1980s
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
Tim Franklin jumping high for a flying kick in Xingyiquan
Barry is dedicated to developing internal force. Once during a course in 2008, I asked some students to punch him really hard, and he just stood there and smiled.
Barry remarked that the most surprising Golden Bell moment for him was at the Healing Course in Malaysia when I asked someone to punch Barry, and he didn’t feel anything. Then I asked someone to hit Barry with a stick of sugar cane. Mark Appleford did the hitting. Again, Barry didn’t feel anything and Mark said the stick exploded in his hand with bits of it flying off around the room.
The intriguing part was that Barry had not undergone any formal training of Golden Bell, but had derived the ability to take punches without sustaining injury from our regular internal force training. Many of our instructors have this ability, some without their own knowing. They don’t have to practise stance training for eight hours daily with saliva flowing from their mouth.
It is like breaking bricks. Our instructors and senior students did not specifically train to break bricks. But when they were asked to, they could do so effectively, often to their initial surprise. Breaking bricks and being able to take punches without sustaining injury are an incidental result of, not the initial reason for, our normal training.
It is important to note that our ability to withstand punches and to break bricks is an incidental result of our internal force derived from our training. In other words, we do not purposely train to withstand punches and to break bricks. We train to have good health, vitality, longevity, mental freshness and spiritual joy.
Barry performing a majestic pattern of White Crane Flaps Wings