Transcription of Episode 7 - The Greatness of Kung Fu - An interview with Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
Tim: Hello and welcome to the Martial Arts Lineage podcast. I’m your host, Tim Johnson. Join me as I interview instructors and martial arts masters from across the country and around the world. In an effort to learn and share knowledge of martial arts style from the mainstream to the exotic, I’ll be speaking with a variety of people who have devoted their lives to these arts. Learn with me about the history of these styles and their evolution, as they have been passed down through the ages. Hear stories of their origins, and of the grand masters both ancient and modern, who have developed these arts as tools for a better human race. Understanding the founding philosophies of these styles to truly realize the true meaning of martial arts.
Tim: I’m speaking with Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit, a fourth generation successor of the renowned Shaolin Monastery in the Putian District of China. A Grandmaster in Shaolin Kung Fu as well as Chi Kung, Sifu Wong has written several books on these arts and the books have become highly acclaimed internationally. He founded the Shaolin Wahnam Institute in 1982 and has been working ever since to spread traditional Kung Fu and Chi Kung training throughout the world.
Grandmaster Wong, it’s such a pleasure to have you here on the Martial Arts Lineage Podcast today. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Wong: It’s nice to talk to you, Tim.
Tim: Now, as you know, my goal here is to put the history of martial arts into perspective for modern day students and modern day martial arts enthusiasts. And, your background and experience is so rich with traditional Chinese Kung Fu that it’s truly a privilege to have you here, so thank you once again.
Now, you’ve been all over the world, and you know, we worked to set up this interview and it was a little bit difficult to schedule since you’re such a busy man. It seems like you travel all over the world doing seminars and workshops. I think that’s great and we can talk about that in a little bit more detail maybe later, but I always like to start my interviews with asking, “What got you interested in training?” I think you started training martial arts when you were ten years old. What was your reason for that?
Wong: Yes, I like to be poetic and fancy that my reason was divine guidance. My first teacher, my first Sifu, Uncle Righteousness, taught in an association where my father worked as a clerk. As a small boy, I was fascinated by Kung Fu. And I followed my father to the association and watched Uncle Righteousness teach Shaolin Kung Fu every night. One night, Uncle Righteousness pointed at me and said, “Aha! Look at that boy!”
He told his students, “He is more diligent than all of you!” And then, he asked me, “Would you like to learn Kung Fu?” That was how I started. I later became his favorite student.
Tim: Hmm, that’s great. Now, where did he get the name “Uncle Righteousness”?
Wong: It was from his Kung Fu circles, he was known for his righteousness.
Tim: Ah. Now you’re the successor of the Southern Shaolin Monastery, which is said to have been burned out in the 17th to 18th century. Can you tell us a little bit about the history of that monastery?
Wong: Yes. Actually not many people knew that the Shaolin monastery was an Imperial Temple for all the Emperors of China. This was an important fact that explains the very high level of arts practice at the monastery. The monastery was originally built on Song Mountain in Henan Province in North China in the 4th century. Sometime during the Ming Dynasty, it was from the 14th to the 17th century, a Ming emperor moved the Imperial temple to Quanzhou City in Fujian in South China. This Southern Shaolin Monastery was burned down by the Qing Army with the help of Lama mercenaries from Tibet around 1850.
The famous five Shaolin Masters: Ng Mui, Pak Mei, Chee Seen, Foong Tou Tak and Miu Hein escaped. Another Grandmaster also escaped although he was not so well known then. He only crossed the river and went over to Siam, which is now Thailand, he changes name to Jiang Nan.
Meanwhile, in China, Chee Seen founded a secretive Southern Shaolin Monastery on Nine Lotus Mountain, also in Fujian in South China. So, actually they were two Southern Shaolin Monasteries. One, an open one at Quanzhou, and another one, a secretive one, on Nine Lotus Mountain.
Tim: Really, hmm.
Wong: This temple was also burned by the Qing Army. This time, led by Pak Mei and Foong Tou Tak, who later sided with the Qing Army.
It is significant to note that the Northern Shaolin Monastery in Henan was not burned during the Qing Dynasty. It was burned much later by warlords in 1928. That is 17 years after the Qing Dynasty. This burning has nothing to do with Kung Fu.
Tim: Hmm. Now, what would the training have consisted for the Shaolin Monks in the 6th century, when the original Shaolin monastery was thought to have been built?
Wong: Yes, the great Bodhidarma, who is honored as the First Patriarch of Shaolin Kung Fu, Shaolin Chi Kung and Zen, taught the monks at the Northern Monastery three sets of exercises, namely the Eighteen Lohan Hands, Sinew Metamorphosis and Bone Marrow Cleansing. The Northern Shaolin Monastery was already in existence for about 150 years before Bodhidarma arrived. So, Bodhidarma was not the founder of the monastery. But, he was the first Patriarch of the Shaolin Arts. The three treasures of Shaolin, namely, Shaolin Kung Fu, Chi Kung and Zen. There are records, newer records of the Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis, but there are no records how Bone Marrow Cleansing was first performed. Because the term Bone Marrow Cleansing refer to the skills, not really the form, not really the techniques. We have records for the Eighteen Lohan Hands, and Sinew Metamorphosis because they refer to the form, which are visible. But the Bone Marrow cleansing refers to the skills, which are not visible.
Bone Marrow cleansing, in Chinese does not just mean bone marrow in modern English. It also refers to nerves. So, Bone Marrow cleansing is actually cleansing nerves.
Although Bodhidarma was a crown prince, and therefore was well versed in martial arts, there was no record of him teaching martial arts to the Shaolin monks. Shaolin Kung Fu was evolved from the Eighteen Lohan Hands by generals who retired to the monastery to cultivate. It is not widely known today even among Zen practitioners that Zen actually originated as an institution from the Shaolin monastery. The first three of Zen’s Six Patriarchs lived and taught at the Shaolin Monastery. It’s quite an interesting account.
Tim: Now can you tell us, I’m interested in the Bone Marrow Cleansing and Sinew Metamorphosis. Is that something that exists today, too? Do people still practice those arts, or are they incorporated in other arts like Chi Kung or things like that?
Wong: Ah yes, we practice all three arts. The Shaolin Kung Fu, Chi Kung, and also Bone Marrow Cleansing. But, we do not call it Bone Marrow Cleansing, we refer to it more like cleansing the nerves. We call it the “Cosmic Shower”, because it includes cleansing the nerves, these are the benefits.
Tim: Hmm, interesting. So that would be part of the Chi Kung system, is that right?
Tim: Okay, yeah. That’s interesting. So, talking about the Southern Shaolin Monastery, what are some of the differences between that Southern Shaolin monastery in Fujian and the Shaolin Temple in Henan? Most people only know of one.
Wong: Yeah, the arts are quite different. Among the three treasures, there’s the Zen, Shaolin Kung Fu and Chi Kung. The practice of Zen was similar in both the Northern Monastery and the Southern Monastery. But there’s some difference in Shaolin Kung Fu and in Chi Kung.
Northern Shaolin Kung Fu is characterized by long stances and extended arms. The emphasis is on agility and kicks. Some representative styles of Northern Kung Fu are Tai Zhu Chang, Shaolin Tan Tui and Praying Mantis. Southern Shaolin Kung Fu is characterized by good stances and short-range movements, and emphasis is on force and striking rather than kicking, although there are also many kicks. Representative styles include Hoong Ka, Wing Choon, and Choy-Li-Fatt. The Eighteen Lohan Hands exemplify the trend of Chi Kung practice in the north. Relatively, the focus is on health and mental freshness. The aim was geared to spiritual cultivation. In the south, the Eighteen Lohan Hands evolved into the Eighteen Lohan Art. Here the emphasis is more on developing internal force for combat application for Shaolin Kung Fu.
Tim: Hmm. And do you know why the difference between the Northern and the Southern Styles, I’ve heard before that in the North they simply had more room to run around and stretch their limbs, so they had room for the longer stances. Is that, do you know anything about that?
Wong: Yes, it’s quite true. In the North, because of the more open space, so the art was more characterized by jumping, quite extended movements. Whereas in the South, both in the training place and the application, the space was more limited, so, short range movements and solid stances. But that doesn’t mean that there were no short-range movements and short stances in Northern Shaolin, and a long-range attack in the South. It’s a matter of emphasis.
Tim: Hmm, yeah. Okay. Now, going back to the monastery, I know that they built the monastery like you said, and the monastery is now open to the public since 1998. Have you had the chance to visit that monastery, and do you think that they captured the essence of the original monastery? How do you feel about that monastery being open to the public as it is now?
Wong: Yes, I haven’t the opportunity to visit the Southern Monastery yet. In my opinion, the essence of the original, the art in the original Northern as well as Southern Monasteries, the essence is not found in the present monastery. The original monastery was an imperial temple, where all the Emperors of all the dynasties pray on behalf of their Chinese Empire. The present monastery is actually more of a tourist attraction center.
It is also my opinion that the Three Treasures of Shaolin, there is, Zen, Shaolin Kung Fu and Chi Kung, are not practiced at the present monastery the way they were practiced in the past. What the modern Shaolin monks practice and excel in today is modernized Wushu, which is quite different from traditional Shaolin Kung Fu. Today, modern Shaolin monks use boxing and kickboxing for combat, rather than traditional Shaolin techniques.
Also in Chi Kung, in the past, Chi Kung was meant to develop internal force, for good health, combat efficiency, and spiritual cultivation. It seems to me that the emphasis, the present monks emphasize on Chi Kung for demonstration, and it was very impressive—like kicking, iron bars on their heads, and bending spears on their throat.
Regarding Zen, this is my opinion, it seems that the modern monks talk and study Zen rather than practice Zen. I’d like to clarify that I’m not against what the present monks are doing. I’m just sharing my opinion, my justification for thinking that the present monastery does not capture the essence of the original monastery.
I think it’s also great that the present Chinese government restored the Shaolin monastery. For a time it was, the monastery was thought as a myth, the Shaolin monastery was a myth. Now, it is established that it is true. We really had a monastery.
Tim: Yeah, that’s nice that it is rebuilt. I hope to visit there myself someday and get a glimpse of what it might have been like. Now, let’s talk a little bit about your training, your personal history and the people that you’ve learned from. Tell us about the masters that you grew up with and that you learned Kung Fu from originally. What were their teaching methods like, and what were their philosophies, how did they hand down the arts of Shaolin to you?
Wong: Yes, I learned from many masters, formerly from four masters. Namely, Sifu Lai Chin Wah, who was more what you know as Uncle Righteousness, the second one was Sifu Chee Kim Thong, who was regarded as a living treasure of China when he was alive, and Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, the third generation successor from the Southern Shaolin Monastery, and Sifu Choe Hoong Choi, the Patriarch of Choe Family Wing Choon. So all the masters I learned from are Patriarchs. It is no coincidence, perhaps it’s not the first, which I fancy to be Divine Guidance, I took a lot of effort and time to search for the masters to learn from them.
My first master, Sifu Lai Chin Wah, was more known in Kung Fu circles as Uncle Righteousness. He was directly descended from the Southern Shaolin Monastery on Nine Lotus Mountain. From Chee Seen, he passed the to Harng Yein, the first disciple of Chee Seen. Harng Yein taught Chan Fook. Chan Fook taught Ng Yew Long. Ng Yew Long came from China to Malaysia and taught Uncle Righteousness. And I had the rare opportunity to learn from Uncle Righteousness.
Uncle Righteousness was very strict in his teaching. He was the strictest master I have ever seen among other masters. There’s this interesting story. Once he was teaching and one of the students was loitering. He asked the student, “Why aren’t you participating?” The student, in his ignorance, said, “Sifu, I already know.”
Sifu said, “Oh, okay, you already know. Now, you can go home. You don’t have to come back.”
Wong: [laughs] It has created an impression on my mind. From then on, no one dared to loiter. His emphasis was on the Horse Riding Stance and on picture perfect form. So, looking back in hindsight, I benefited tremendously from that, from my stance training and my form.
My second teacher was Sifu Chee Kim Thong, a Patriarch of Wuzuquan or Five Ancestor Kung Fu. As I mentioned, he was regarded as a living treasure of China, and Wuzu, as taught by my Sifu, is famous for internal force. And as an interesting story, when I learned from Uncle Righteousness, he was sterner. My Sifu used force. But when I learned from Sifu Chee Kim Thong, the eldest son, who taught us didn’t use force. In Hockien, I can still remember, “Mien Yong Lak”, in the Fujian dialect, meaning, don’t use force. I was thinking, “How would one use the art for combat if they didn’t use force?” But when I sparred with my classmates, my seniors, who did not use force, they had tremendous force. It’s interesting. How could one use tremendous force when they did not use strength?
Wong: I didn’t know then. I only knew academically, theoretically, they used internal force. They did not use muscular strength. It was much later that I realized, that I knew it, from experience. So, Sifu Chee Kim Thong was the one who actually gave me the taste of internal force. At the time, I was quite naïve, I did not understand deeply yet.
I had my Kung Fu enlightenment with Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. He was quite close to the Southern Monastery Lineage. One of the Grandmaster who ran out was Jiang Nan, the Venerable Jiang Nan. He was very smart, he went out of China, he went to what is now known as Southern Thailand, which is now part of Malaysia now, earlier was Siam, now Thailand. There, he taught and wandered around for fifty years, just to look for one disciple to pass the art to. So, he found my Sigung, that is a young Fa Kun, who is already an accomplished master.
Also, there’s an interesting story about that. My students use to tell me, “Sifu, tell us more stories.” I hope I have the liberty to tell some, a little bit of interesting stories?
Tim: Oh yes. [chuckles]
Wong: Ha, thank you. So, this monk, Jiang Nan, was looking at how a Kung Fu master was demonstrating my Sigung, Yang Fa Kun, was traveling medicine man, who demonstrated his Kung Fu. So, he watched him for many nights. After watching him for some time, when all the people have dispersed, he came to tell the young master, “Just now, a lot of people applauded, and say how good your Kung Fu. But actually, your Kung Fu was nothing!”
This Kung Fu master was surprised! Look at this old monk at 80, but strong and fit, and I’m a young man. Then the monk said, “Well, don’t believe what I say, let us have some fair sparring. So, out of respect for his old age, my Sikung was not using his full force, so the monk was a bit annoyed, and said, “Now, use your best!” I mean, he played about with my Sikung. So, my Sikung was really surprised, and so he begged to be accepted as a disciple. So, that’s how he learned from him. It was a much later, that happened when my Sikung learned from my Sicho, he was a young man, around 30. He was a bout 70 when my Sifu learned from my Sikung. So, the lineage was from Jiang Nan, to Yang Fa Kun, to Ho Fatt Nam, who was a third generation from the Southern Shaolin Monastery, from the South, from Quanzhou.
Tim: So that was over a long period of time.
Wong: Yes. Then my fourth teacher was Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, the Patriarch of Choe Family Wing Choon. The Choe Family Wing Choon, this art, was quite different from the popular style of Wing Choon from Sifu Yip Mann today. We used quite long stances, from Shaolin Kung Fu.
I was very lucky to learn from Sifu Hoong Choy because I had some special privileges. He treated me more like an equal, rather than as a student, although I always regard him as my Sifu. So, I had the opportunity to choose what Kung Fu set, what Kung Fu arts I could learn. It was quite a rare opportunity. Of course, I chose the best, I chose Siu Lin Tau, which was the treasure of Wing Choon Kung Fu.
Wong: Not only did I learn the form, I learned how to use it to develop internal force. So, I also learned Fa Khuen, or Flower Set, which was reported to be the forerunner of Wing Choon Kung Fu. It was the favorite set of Ng Mui, Yim Wing Choon’s teacher. I also learned the famous Six-and-a-Half-Point Staff. While I learned from Sifu Choe Hoong Choy in private, I also helped him to teach Lion Dance to his school.
So, I was actually very lucky to learn from all these four great masters. All of them have a common philosophy. They were very proud, in a good way, of the art, and considered it a rare opportunity for anyone to learn from them. They only taught to students who must prove themselves to be deserving by diligence and high moral values.
Tim: Hmm, that sounds like some great experiences, learning from wonderful masters.
Wong: [chuckles] It wonderful to recall my younger days.
Tim: [chuckles] Yeah, now you mentioned that the Wing Choon you studied was different than the Wing Choon that’s popular today under Sifu Yip Mann. But was Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, were they affiliated? Did he work with Grandmaster Yip Mann as well, or was it a separate branch of Wing Choon?
Wong: It was actually the same branch. We traced back to Leung Yi Tai. Leung Yi Tai and Wong Wah-bo were classmates. So, Wong Wah-bo, the line went to Sifu Yip Mann, and Leung Yi Tai came down to us, the Choe Family Wing Choon. So, it was, Leung Yi Tai taught a Choy-Li-Fatt master, Yik Kam. So, he was already a master in Choy-Li-Fatt before he learned Wing Choon, so we are lucky because when we say Wing Choon, we also have the advantage of learning Choy-Li-Fatt Kung Fu.
Tim: Hmm. Great.
Wong: Interesting that Choy-Li-Fatt and Wing Choon is they compliment. Choy-Li-Fatt is very good for long range mess fighting, Wing Choon for short range and for master level personal fighting.
Tim: Okay, and that makes sense. That explains why the style of Wing Choon you learned is a little bit longer, a little bit more spread out than the popular Wing Choon. Hmm, you’ve studied from all these masters and you’ve combined their teachings from specifically two of your instructors to create. What your life’s work now is the Shaolin Wahnam Institute.
Tim: That name, Wahnam Institute, has two of your master’s names in it. Now, how did you decide which aspects to take from either instructor, and how to incorporate those philosophies into your own school?
Wong: Yes. Actually, all the important teachings of all my four masters are found in my school. But the instructional material is derived mainly from two of my masters: Sifu Lai Chin Wah, Uncle Righteousness, and Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. Therefore, I used the name Wah and Nam to name after my school, the Shaolin Wahnam. I did not consciously choose what aspect of my masters’ teaching to teach my students. The choice was made quite unconsciously to meet the certain needs of the occasion.
In line of the teaching of all my masters, I consider stance training very important. Uncle Righteousness was the most who emphasized quite a lot on stances. He was most known for his stances. So, it’s quite natural, quite unconsciously, that much of the stance training in my school know came from the lineage of Uncle Righteousness.
I also consider that Chi Kung and meditation or any Chi training on my training are very important besides just the physical part of the art. Sifu Ho Fatt Nam’s teaching emphasized a lot on energy and mind. So again, quite unconsciously, but quite logically, a lot of the material I teach in my school would come from the teaching of Sifu Ho Fatt Nam.
To me, I also make some modifications because of certain needs. It took me many years before I could apply Kung Fu techniques effectively in combat. In my training, I had to devise my own combinations, my sequences for combat, so I thought I could help my students to progress faster if I could arrange the combat sequences for them. So therefore, I composed a number of combat sequences and then taught them, instead of letting them find out for themselves. So, this method proved to be very efficient, and our students in Shaolin Wahnam could use Kung Fu techniques for free sparring in a relatively short time, within a few months. It was quite impressive.
Also, because of my years of teaching in Chi Kung, I’m able to inter-use my Chi Kung teaching in their Kung Fu training and have my students feel internal force—almost right at the start of their Kung Fu career. So, right from the start, we trained Kung Fu with mind and energy, not just the physical aspect.
Tim: Right, so it’s all one and the same.
Tim: Are the classes at the Wahnam Institute taught in the same manner that they would have been originally taught at the Shaolin Monastery?
Wong: Yes, there’s a direct course that we have know on how the past Shaolin masters trained at the monastery, we believe that we are now doing the same thing. We study stances and footwork and basic hand forms. We also spend a lot of time on energy flow, on developing internal force, on meditation. Then, we spend time developing skills rather than just learning techniques. Skills like right spacing, right timing, fluidity of movements, and skills in making instantaneous changes according to changes in situations. We also learn breath regulation and how to develop force and split force. We practice our combat application using our basic patterns and mingling them, these patterns into sets. So, this is quite different from what is usually practiced in most other schools. But, this is, we believe, what was practiced at the Shaolin monastery.
Now, how can we know? How do you know? We carry from the records, both in writing and in picture still existent today. So, we compare what the past masters recorded or they practiced. We find that it’s quite the same as what we’re doing now.
Tim: I’m curious to know how Shaolin martial arts training has changed over your lifetime. You’ve been working with it for a long time now, and I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of things. How have things changed either around you or by your influence? How have you changed things?
Wong: Yes, that’s a very interesting question. Both the philosophy and the methodology in my school, Shaolin Wahnam, are the same as those I learned from my masters, especially from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam and Uncle Righteousness. Except that my students now, they are very lucky, they achieve in months what it took me years. And I’m very proud and happy about that.
There is, however, some noticeable difference. In my time, I learned Kung Fu, Chi Kung and meditation quite separately. First, we started with Kung Fu, the physical aspect of Kung Fu. Then, I went to Chi Kung. Chi Kung was known as Nei Kung at the time, was more like a rewards for those students who show promise and who are good. On a higher level, we had a chance to learn Zen meditation.
Now, in Shaolin Wahnam, our students learn all this as an integrated, coherent system. In other words, when they practice Shaolin Kung Fu, they are at the same time practicing Chi Kung and meditation. This change came about through evolution rather than design. It was evolved because of meeting speed and means. I was much inspired by the Great Zhang San Feng, the Patriarch of the Internal Arts, who integrated Kung Fu, Chi Kung and meditation in one. And also, it was influenced by my teaching of Chi Kung and Tai Chi Chuan.
Although our school has spread to many many countries in all the six continents, we’re actually still a very small minority in the Kung Fu world. And so, our influence over other schools is minimal. Many Kung Fu practitioners sometimes think that we are very strange, we are very odd. They often wonder why we talk about internal force, and using Kung Fu patterns for combat, which to us is natural. When you meet Karate or Kung Fu practitioners today, they punch sandbags and lift weights and use boxing and kickboxing in sparring.
Our school is also very different from modern schools of Wuzu. From our perspective, Wuzu training is external, whereas our training is internal. Wuzu practitioners focus on beautiful demonstrations and winning trophies. Whereas, we focus on internal force, training, combat efficiency and spiritual cultivation. Not many people clearly know that Wuzu practitioners have to endure a lot injuries even at a young age. Even though they do not practice sparring, they have a lot of injuries. Whereas, in our case, we are very lucky, we enjoy good health and vitality. We do a lot of sparring. Our sparring is not only injury free, but also full of fun and full of laughter.
Tim: [laughs] That’s great. Now, in your book, “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu”, which I’ve read and very much enjoyed, you published Kung Fu techniques, like the Five Animal Set in the book, move-by-move, with illustrations. Now, tell us a little bit about your opinions on sharing this kind of Kung Fu knowledge so freely. A lot of martial artists that I know are martial arts instructors and other people in the martial arts field would be hesitant to publish techniques to the public like that.
Wong: Aha, this is another interesting question, Tim! One of the many many reasons why it’s nice talking to you! [laughs]
Wong: Indeed, a lot of people, including some masters have expressed surprise why I share secrets so openly. In fact, in my earlier days, quite a lot or all masters got angry at me, “How can you just expose such secrets?”
Wong: Mainly, the reason is closely related to why I established Shaolin Wahnam. One of the main reasons for founding Shaolin Wahnam was my real concern at the time that the greatness of Kung Fu, not just the fighting, but the wonderful benefits like good health, vitality, we can relax even though in a taxing situation. And, even as a spiritual joys as well as helping us to peak our performance in our work and play. Now, all these great benefits would be lost within just two generations. Won’t you imagine my concern if he realizes that most Kung Fu practitioners today have no experience of internal force and cannot use Kung Fu techniques for combat, yet they conceive Kung Fu just as the physical fighting art. Sometime it could be quite brutal too.
Now, all these three aspects: internal force, combat efficiency and spiritual cultivation are the hallmarks of good Kung Fu, especially Shaolin Kung Fu, especially spiritual cultivation makes Kung Fu great. But all these three aspects were not practiced by most Kung Fu practitioners. Most people did not have an idea of internal force, including some masters. Most Kung Fu practitioners use kickboxing for combat rather than Kung Fu techniques, and many practitioners, if not most, will alienate the spiritual aspect from the physical. They think they’ll regard Kung Fu as just physical.
So we are serious in wanting to preserve this greatness of Kung Fu. To do so, we have to share those secrets that make Kung Fu great. So, I have to share these secrets in my books. There are also other ways to achieve the same purpose as opposed to sharing the secrets, like when I teach and transmit the skills to my students, skills which are considered top secret to many people, we give it freely to our students. Not only do we teach them, but we transmit to them, which means that if I teach them, they will take many months to develop the skill. But if I transmit to them heart to heart, which is a hallmark of a high level Shaolin, they will get it instantly, all they need is to practice it. That’s why they can achieve skills that in a few weeks what it would take me to practice for years.
For example, in our students, we spar, and their sparring is very vigorous, for a few hours, at least two or three hours, without feeling tired and without panting for breath.
Wong: So this, such experience, makes internal force come alive. And also, our students even in relatively beginning classes often have spiritual experiences. They feel themselves expanding into the Cosmos. They feel they are bigger than their physical body. It’s understandable if there are many people may not believe this, but it’s true. So, this makes spiritual cultivation come alive.
But most significantly, our training enriches the student’s lives and the lives of other people. It makes life a joy everyday.
Tim: Hmm, that’s great to hear and I hope, like you said, that we can all work together and preserve the greatness of Kung Fu, it’s a wonderful thing that you’re doing.
Wong: Yeah, we believe that we are actually quite generous. In fact, one of my instructors have told me, “Sifu, you are ridiculous, in a good sense! You are literally giving out secrets which are reserved in most other schools by most other masters for their top students!”
Tim: Hmm. Having worked to spread the teachings of Shaolin all over the world now through the Shaolin Wahnam Institute, I imagine you faced challenges, culturally, working with different cultures and different countries. What kind of challenges have you faced in these different countries while teaching the traditional Chinese martial arts?
Wong: Ah, yes. Because of the cultural difference, many Chinese masters often complain about the lack of respect from the western students. In this respect, I’m very lucky as my students not only show me much respect, but they do so sincerely. There are nevertheless, some cultural challenges from people outside Shaolin Wahnam. Inside Shaolin Wahnam, they follow the culture. At the same time, we are very liberal. We do not force Shaolin culture on them, but they follow it if they find it beneficial. If they don’t find it beneficial, they can chug it aside. But many people, especially in the west, do not believe in what we are talking about. They do not believe in Chi and internal force, for example. That’s why the unbelievable opportunities that we offer in our courses that enable even beginners to experience Chi and internal force and the benefits from Chi and internal force within a very short time.
On the other hand, there are also Internal Art instructors, and even some masters, who use western concepts to explain Chi and internal force. Because of the ignorance of most people, they don’t understand chi and internal force, this western approach is often not correct but is often regarded as authoritative. So, there is a dilemma. Some masters use western concepts to explain Chi, to explain internal force. But that doesn’t apply. It’s just like using English grammar to explain the Chinese language. It doesn’t work, right? But because most people in the public do not understand about internal force, and have no experience about internal force and Chi, they mistake such a faulty explanation as authoritative explanation.
So, due to cultural differences, it’s not easy for many western people also to appreciate the level of combat efficiency of genuine Kung Fu masters. For example, many people find it unbelievable for a small-sized master could defeat a huge muscular opponent with just one strike. And also, because of the low level of combat ability of most Kung Fu practitioners today, many people in the west, including the Kung Fu practitioners themselves, even think that Kung Fu cannot be used for combat. It is quite ridiculous, or interesting, depending on how you look at it.
Tim: [laughs] Yeah.
Wong: Imagine, people teaching people and some of them quite authoritative, regarded by the public as an authority. They say, “No, the Kung Fu techniques cannot be used for combat.” You look at the videos and the website, they use boxing and kickboxing.
Tim: Hmm. Right. Hopefully we can, you can, you and Shaolin Wahnam Institute can change that opinion. [chuckles]
Wong: Yes. That’s why we aspire like we do.
Tim: Hmm, now. You’ve worked a lot with the more esoteric arts, like you’ve been talking about, especially Chi Kung and Internal Arts, the spiritual, mental and the physical benefits of all these arts are vast and far-reaching according to your books and according to other popular beliefs in the martial arts community. Where do you see these arts developing toward in the future? How can these Internal Arts help to guide or to heal our modern society?
Wong: Ah, yes, another very interesting question, Tim! Thank you for asking that! [chuckles]
Wong: I sincerely believe that Chi Kung is an excellent answer to a very pressing need facing modern societies today. Namely, overcoming so-called incurable diseases. I would like to take this opportunity to share a great inspiring truth: good health is natural. Today, so many people are sick and weak. They mistakenly think that being sick and being weak is natural. That’s not true. Being healthy is natural. Being sick is unnatural. Sickness, illness, by whatever means we may call, call it the symptoms, is unnatural, and therefore can be overcome.
It is a big mistake to call such diseases like cancer, viral infection, cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, asthma, depression, anxiety, and many more as incurable. Many people have overcome such diseases often without consciously knowing. For example, cell mutation happens in every person. Yet, four out of five persons overcome it without them knowing. Statistics show that one out of five has cancer, clinically have disease. The question is not why one out of five has cancer, but why four out of five do not have cancer, given the carcinogens, the disease-causing agents all around us. Whenever a person walks on a street, on a road, he is exposed to cancer. The tar on the road can cause cancer. If he just touches a wall, he can have cancer. The paint on the wall is cancerous. Yet four out of five do not have cancer because we have our own mechanism to overcome mutation, because health is natural.
Tim: Hmm, that’s interesting…
Wong: Also it’s the same for viruses. We are exposed many deadly viruses, more deadly than cancer, more deadly than heart problems all the time. All the time, we have deadly viruses in us. Yet, we are not infected because of our own mechanism, own defense system, because health is natural! Why do people get sick? Imagine today, a lot of people get sick. It is because the energy that works the natural processes to maintain the good health is blocked from doing its work.
So, in the Chi Kung paradigm, all illness is caused by energy blockage. Practicing Chi Kung is an excellent way to cure the blockage and restore good health. But the problem today is that most people do not understand or appreciate the Chi Kung paradigm. They are so used to the western paradigm, so they think that it is absolutely true. They forget that a paradigm is only a way of looking at things.
A good example would be classifying food as a carbohydrate, as fat, as protein. That is a paradigm. It’s not an absolute truth. A lot of people, like the traditional Chinese, the traditional Indians and even the Europeans in the ## age do not regard food as carbohydrate, or protein or vitamins. Yet, if they take food, what we in modern times, we regard as carbohydrate, protein, receive it, digest it. The Chinese, the Indians, for example, traditionally classify food as hot food and cold food, not as protein, carbohydrate. When they take food looking from the western paradigm, they say it’s protein, or carbohydrate, they still digest the food.
In the same way, when a person is sick, a western doctor using a western paradigm will regard it as a, say, infected by bacteria or virus. Now, the Chinese physician does not look at it that way. Using his paradigm, he can also overcome the illness. So, the paradigm is not a set of truth, but a special way of looking at things. Personally, I’ve helped many people overcome so-called incurable diseases like cancer, viral infection, heart problem, or diabetes, because I do not see them as suffering from cancer, or viral infection, or diabetes, or heart problem. If I use that paradigm, you will be called as incurable.
So, I use another paradigm. I use the Chi Kung paradigm or the traditional Chinese paradigm. It is inspiring to note that this paradigm has maintained the health as well as the sanity of the biggest population of the world for the longest period of history, something that we can of course trust. The biggest population of the world for the longest period of history, much more than the rest of paradigms by a very big margin.
Tim: [chuckles] Yeah, you’re right, you’re right.
Wong: So I see them, I see these people from a western paradigm as suffering from cancer or viral infection or depression or asthma or diabetes or heart problem. I don’t see them from the western paradigm. I see them from the east or the Chi Kung paradigm, the Chinese medical paradigm, and that makes a big difference. I see them as having an energy blockage. So, if I can help them clear their energy blockage, they are restored to good health. That is wonderful.
Wong: But there’s still one big problem. Genuine Chi Kung that can bring all these benefits, and this genuine Chi Kung is rare. For most people, the practice today is actually some Cheng De exercise, not Chi Kung, although most of them do not realize it. The crucial difference between Chi Kung and Cheng De exercise is that Chi Kung works on energy, whereas Cheng De exercise works on the physical body. So, if someone doesn’t know what working on energy is, he doesn’t really practice Chi Kung. If he practices Chi Kung, he will know that he is working on energy. Just as someone who hasn’t eaten a mango will not know what a mango is, one who has eaten a mango, he will know. One who has practiced genuine Chi Kung, he will know.
Wong: [chuckles] Interesting, isn’t it?
Tim: It is, it is.
Wong: Maybe I will ask something. How do people know it is really Chi Kung? A good way is to see the result. Whether they tell you what Chi Kung should give. If one practiced Chi Kung, he should have a lot of energy, a lot of vitality, he will overcome illness. If a person has practiced what he thinks is Chi Kung for some time, say a few years, and it doesn’t have those results, he should start to suspect. That is a good way to assess any art, whether the art is genuine or whether they are practicing correctly is whether the result they’d get is what that art or that exercise is supposed to give.
Tim: Hmm, it seems like Chi Kung training and the internal exercises that you’re talking about, the effect of those exercises is more of a long-term effect whereas some of the more modern martial art training focuses on the short-term effect. You know, your muscles get sore and you get stronger quickly but Chi Kung works over a longer time period and you see effects far into the future.
Wong: Yes. On the other hand, you get also a short-term effect. Like when we practice Chi Kung, we can feel the energy flow.
Tim: Hmm, okay.
Wong: Like an electric current going through the body, or like the Chi is a warmth flooding over the body. You feel energized. Our students have those short-term effects immediately after a session. But overcoming illness will be long term, it will take a few months.
Tim: Are there any other thoughts you would like to share about the development of Kung Fu, either past or present?
Wong: I would like to share a very important thought. Yes, on the development of not just Kung Fu, but martial arts in general. I’d like to emphasize that my opinion is given in good faith, with a sincere hope that it will bring benefit to those concerned.
Now why does any one person, why does any person practice a martial art, any martial art? There are two main reasons: to defend himself and his loved ones, and to promote health. It is actually shocking that not only most martial artists do not achieve these two aims, but they actually become worse the more they train. Many of them do not even realize it. Even advanced practitioners, like black belts, cannot defend themselves. They may be good at hitting the opponents, or their sparring partners, but they themselves will be hit many times too, even in friendly sparring. Some even believe that if one cannot take some punches and kicks, how can he practice a martial art? This of course is ridiculous. The very reason one practices a martial art is not to be hit at all.
Secondly, many martial artists are becoming more unhealthy the more they train. It’s not just for injuries sustained in sparring, which are usually left unattended, too. The way many martial artists train is with much mental stress and physical tension is detrimental to health. Many martial artists endure pain and internal injuries many days a week, sometimes, for many, even constantly in pain and endure internal injury. This is certainly bad for their health, for their quality of life and also for their potential life span. Why should they submit themselves to such punishment when they practice martial arts as a hobby?
So, a lot of people who practice martial arts are very nice people. I hope this could help them. Different people may have different ways of overcoming this problem. But realizing the problem is the first important step. So, thank you for this wonderful opportunity to share this important thought.
Tim: Hmm, well Grandmaster Wong, it’s been such a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you again for your time, and on behalf of the entire martial arts community worldwide, thank you for sharing your Kung Fu.
Wong: Well, thank you very much! It’s wonderful, the talk with you, and to share my opinions with many many people. Thank you for the opportunity. Good health and happiness to you and you all!
Tim: Aww, thank you, that’s very nice. Oh one thing I should ask before we part is how can people find out more information about you and about the Shaolin Wahnam Institute?
Wong: Yeah, the best way is to go to my website, shaolin.org.
Wong: So there you can find a lot of information. And there there’s links to many other websites.
Tim: Yeah, that’s a great website you have, too. There’s a lot of information there.
Wong: Oh, thank you very much.
Tim: Well, thank you once again, I very much appreciate it!
Wong: Thank you! Thank you for the good work you are doing! You certainly bring a lot of benefits to many people!
Tim: Hmm, I hope so, I hope so. I’m trying to, like you said, preserve the greatness of Kung Fu. I hope we can do that.
Wong: Yeah, we will do that.
Tim: Thanks for listening to another episode of the Martial Arts Lineage Podcast. Be sure to go check out Grandmaster Wong’s Lineage Page as well as interviews from instructors and masters all over the world at maLineage.com, where you can create a lineage page for yourself, your school, your students, and as Grandmaster Wong said, help us to preserve the greatness of Kung Fu.