An old photo showing Grandmaster Wong performing “Taming Tiger”
Early next morning the Venerable Chee Seen took Li Chooi Peng to a training hall. He stretched himself on the floor, his body straight, his head facing downward and his back facing upward, supported only by his toes and his palms. Then he pressed up and down numerous times. Li Chooi Peng followed what her sifu did. Everyday they increased the number of times of pressing up and down gradually.
After about a month of daily practice, Chee Seen changed his palms into fists, with his tiger-mouths (i.e. the parts between the thumb and the index finger) facing forward. After another month, he changed his fists into three fingers each hand, using his thumb, his index finger and his middle finger, with his thumb behind. The small girl followed her master.
After a few months, Chee Seen, in the same poise, hopped to the front and then to the back, using only his fingers and his toes, and keeping his body straight. The student followed what the master did. After a year, Li Chooi Peng was very forceful in her fingers.
(In our school, the stationary exercise is called “Taming Tiger”, and the mobile exercise is called “Jumping Tiger”.)
The Venerable Chee Seen was very happy. Then he transited to Li Chooi Peng the techniques of attacking, defending, rising, falling, shooting and swallowing.
Li Chooi Peng was very intelligent. Once she saw the kungfu movements, she would not forget.
This clever girl thought to herself, “Sifu only taught me alone, and let me train individually. This must be sifu’s secretive art. How can I not know its origin?”
So, one day after training, she asked Chee Seen, “Sifu, the kungfu movements that I have learnt, where did they come from?”
Hearing this, Chee Seen laughed loudly. “You’ve asked well. But it is usually difficult to examine the origin of kungfu. Since ancient time, scholars generally do not regard martial art as something that is presented in the grand hall (i.e. not as a topic for serious investigation). Thus they do not spend time and effort to examine and record it.
“Let’s take what you are now learning, the chin-na techniques of Eagle Claw. “
(“Chin” means hold, and “na” means grip. Chin-na is a special way of gripping an opponent to stop his energy flow, to tear his tendons or to dislocate his joints. In some chin-na techniques, an exponent may tear off the limb or the head of an opponent.)
“Although I spent some time to investigate its source,” Chee Seen continued, “what I know is from what I have heard. I have no way to determine the truth. As you have asked, I am glad to tell you.
“According to legends, this type of techniques was invented by our First Patriarch Bodhidharma (or Da Mo in Chinese). Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Monastery in Henan, and meditated for nine years in a cave. On day Guan Yin Bodh Satt (the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion) appeared, with millions of lotus flowers. Therefore Bodhidharma attained the truth of Buddhism.
“He returned to the Shaolin Monastery to transmit the truth. But in his sermons, whenever he explained sutras, the monks were weak, and some yawned. So our First Patriarch told the monks that although the physical body is not important, before one attains Enlightenment, before his personal spirit merges with the Universal Spirit, he has to strengthen his physical body. Thus, before realizing Nature, it is necessary to be healthy. When the physical body is strong, the spirit can more easily attain the Way.
“Bodhidharma said that the monks were weak and sickly. He wanted to teach them an art that could make them strong and healthy, to let them practice daily. So he invented the Eighteen Lohan Hands. This was the beginning of Shaolin Kungfu.
“There were many tigers around the Shaolin Monastery which harmed the local people. Bodhidharma often descended the mountain to tame the tigers. One day he caught a baby tiger. He brought the baby tiger back to the monastery and trained it daily. When it grew up, Bodhidharma let it guard the monastery, and named it ‘Night Guard Protecting the Mountain’. From his experience, Bodhidharma invented ‘Piercing Tiger Sword’ and ‘Taming Tiger Fist’.
“Oh, I have digressed. This chin-na techniques of Eagle Claw were based on the techniques of dotting energy points (i.e. when energy points were touched in a seemingly gentle manner, an opponent lost his ability to fight further). Bodhidharma transited the techniques generations after generations. In the Sui Dynasty, they were transmitted to the Venerable Lo Choe, and Lo Choe transmitted to Seen Ho, and Seen Ho to Yun Meng. In the Yuan Dynasty, Yong Yeit improved the techniques, and transmitted them to the Kok Yun (pronounced as ‘Jue Yuan’ in Mandarin).
“The Venerable Kok Yun was very keen in Shaolin techniques, and learned all he could. He met excellent masters like Li Mong Sau and Pak Yuk Fong (pronounced as ‘Bai Yi Feng” in Mandarin, the First Patriarch of Wuzuquan). Later Li Mong Sau and Pak Yuk Fong became monks at the Shaolin Monastery, and were intimate with the Venerable Kok Yun, practicing kungfu together. Since then, most of martial art secrets came from the Shaolin Monastery.
“When chin-na techniques of Eagle Claw were spread to the public outside the monastery walls, they were very popular in Fujian Province. The Venerable Kok Yun further improved the Eagle Claw chin-na techniques. But later martial arts became unpopular, and Eagle Claw chin-na techniques were almost lost, but were maintained in the Shaolin Monastery. During the time of the Ming Dynasty, Li Kheng Chu and Cheong Chong Kai (pronounced as ‘Zhang Zhong Xi’ in Mandarin) learned these techniques, but they rarely transmitted the techniques to other people.
“During the time of the Ming Emperor Jiajing, when Japanese pirates attacked our south-eastern coasts, Cheong Chong Kai joined the army of General Qi Ji Guang, and taught Eagle Claw chin-na techniques to the army. This was the second time Eagle Claw chin-na techniques were transmitted to the public.”
The Venerable Chee Seen realized that he was telling a pupil who was only about twelve years old. He asked, “Do you understand what I have said?”
Li Chooi Peng blinked her eyes and answered, “Sifu, I understand. But how does sifu know these stories?”
“These stories were told to me by my sifu, sisooks and sihengs.”
(“Sifu” meant ones kungfu teacher, “sisook” was the younger kungfu brother of ones teacher, and ”siheng” meant ones elder kungfu brother.)
Chee Seen continued, “The most important aspect for you is to understand how to apply these techniques in a marvelous way. These chin-na techniques are different from fist techniques, different from staff techniques. Their essence is to use the opponent’s strength in a marvelous way. When you are in combat, if your opponents are stronger than you, don’t match your strength with theirs.
“You use their strength to defeat them in a marvelous way. Kungfu focuses much on the use of strength. A person may be strong like a buffalo, but if he does not use strength skillfully, you can defeat him.
“Its explanation lies in ‘gaining advantages’ or ‘not gaining advantages’. If you hold sometime and when you gain advantages, you won’t feel difficult even after a hundred miles. If you don’t gain advantages, after a few steps you will be sweating and out of breadth.
“Nevertheless, besides using ‘miraculous strength’, an exponent of Eagle Claw chin-na techniques must understand a persons bone structure and energy flow system. A person’s bones and tendons have their definite position. Energy flow also has its definite meridians. Energy flows first, then blood follows. Wherever energy flows to a particular energy point, blood will flow there. This follows a definite system.
“If energy flow and blood flow are blocked, or if bones and tendons are out of position, it will affect the whole person. If you understand this explanation, then the application of Eagle Claw chin-na techniques will be clear.
“When we subdue an opponent, we do not use our fists, and also do not use our palms. We depend on our thumb, our index finger and our middle finger. There is a difference between yin-hand and yang-hand. When the palm faces skyward, and we move from below upward to meet our opponent, this is yang-hand. When our palm faces the ground, and we move from above downward, it is yin-hand.
“Irrespective of whether we use yin-hand or yang-hand, as soon as we are in contact with an opponent, we use our thumb, index finger and middle finger to grip together, like gripping something. In one move, we grip an important part of an opponent’s body, generate our internal force and subdue him.
“Hence, in this method the effective result comes from our three fingers. We must train well in the kungfu of the three fingers. Most people use their power on their fists and palms, but it is insufficient to use their power on their fingers. It is because the strength of the fingers is limited.
“To train this method, first we have to develop force at the fingers. Then we train chin-na (or holds and grips). Once we surpass this difficulty, naturally our hands will follow our heart (i.e. our techniques will follow our intention). From tomorrow onwards, you will learn and understand the tendons and meridians, and the energy points of a person.”
Li Chooi Peng was very happy. She knelt down to thank the advice of her sifu.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org stating your name, country and e-mail address.
I always write after a course and this time will not be different. As always, Wahnam courses are so enriching that exceed my expectations.
It has been a while since I don’t practice Western chess. It has been so because I don’t particularly feel attracted by it. But, with Chinese chess, the situation is very different. It is much more fun and much more realistic.
As in all Wahnam courses, the Chinese chess course (1st and 2nd October 2011 in Ireland) is full of philosophy, advices and strategies to apply on real life too. I made a list with the ones that impressed me most:
Situations can Always be Turned Around
In just one move, one can change from an adverse to a favorable situation. Those in the course had the opportunity to experience this when playing with Chun Yian Siheng. In my case, in one of the games, I was in a favorable position and Chun Yian Siheng gave three advices to my opponent and I lost the game. That taught me a lot. If one knows how, almost any situation can be changed.
Don’t Waste Unnecessary Movements
Like in Zen, it is better to be simple, direct and effective. Again, playing with Chun Yian Siheng, I learned this valuable lesson. I was making a short movement and then, I moved the same chess piece again. Chun Yian Siheng told me: “You did two movements to arrive here. That could be done in only one move. You wasted one movement and you gave that advantage to the adversary.”
Have a Whole Picture of What is Happening
Like in life, one tends to focus only on one perspective or view. It is easy to forget that many other facts can affect the game. One chess piece placed on the back can change everything in only a couple of moves. Again, Chun Yian Siheng demonstrated to me this precious advice within the game. Once, I was so focused on my attack that I forgot about the rest of the chess pieces. In a couple of movements, I lost the game. I didn’t pay too much attention of what Chun Yian Siheng was doing with the other pieces.
Many people on the course was attacking without paying attention to defense. What Chun Yian Siheng told us about was: “One cannot think about an attack when defense is weak. First defense, then attack.”
Reduce Your Mistakes
I am very sure that everybody within the course remembers this advice. The more mistakes we were committing, the less opportunities we had for winning the game.
Don’t Lock Yourself
That is another extraordinary advice from Chun Yian Siheng. Within the game, we were locking our chess pieces in order to accomplish one strategy. But, what we forgot, was that we couldn’t use those pieces for the rest of the game because they were locked. Then, most of our resources were wasted and limited. Again, playing with Chun Yian Siheng, he demonstrated to me how important this advice was. He killed 4 pieces of mine with only one piece of him. My other pieces were locked doing something else so I could not do anything about it.
Sometimes You have to Choose to Lose
That is another excellent advice. Chun Yian Siheng was teaching me that lesson as follows: He was placed his chess pieces in the way that always two pieces of mine were in danger. One of them always had to die and I was the one choosing which one of them I was going to sacrifice. Then, I remember in exact words what Chun Yian Siheng told me: “Sometimes, you have to decide what you want to lose in order to get something else.”
It is Better to Lose a Game but Win a Friend than to Win a Game but also Win an Enemy
Chun Yian Siheng finished the course with this excellent advice and quote mentioned by Sifu, Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit, his father.
As always, it is difficult to return what Shaolin Wahnam is giving me. I feel very blessed with Shaolin Wahnam family within Ireland. Thanks Chun Yian Siheng for coming to teach us this treasured game. It was a wonderful weekend. Thanks also to Joan Sijie for taken care of me and thanks to all Shaolin Wahnam family, here in Ireland, for making me feel like at home.