It’s supposedly springtime. They always say April showers bring May flowers. Well, I’ll tell you, I’m sick and tired of showers, and I’m not seeing any flowers even though May is right around the corner. Sitting hunched over the keyboard the other day trying to work on a project, I guess I inadvertently twisted around and tweaked something in my shoulder. I don’t want to say old age is creeping up on me, so we’ll blame it on the dampness of the weather. Then I thought to myself, how could this be? I practice my Kung Fu on a daily basis, sometimes hours upon hours on any one given day. Oh well. So, it came time to go visit my Sifu and do a little extra training. I mentioned it to him but then started running through our regimen of daily practice. I spent a lot of time and energy on one section over and over again. My Sifu was commenting from the other side of the room that he could see the chi that I was producing heating up the room and starting to escalate, and as he mentioned that I realized that I didn’t feel that stabbing pain in my back as much.
Everybody has chi; it’s your internal energy and power, but not many people know how to tap into it and actually make it work. That’s one of the amazing benefits of learning traditional Kung Fu. When you practice, you run the chi in your body. You can become your own doctor to a certain degree. You can diagnose yourself and understand what the issue is, and in certain respects be able to heal yourself and turn it around. It’s happened to me many times where you injure yourself or inadvertently get a cold or something, but through the practice of the chi gung that’s inside your traditional form, you are able to raise up that energy and have it course through your body and help push out whatever the stagnation or ailment is. And that’s my story, because now I feel fine. If you get a pinched nerve or a frozen shoulder or whatever people get when the seasons change, you’re going to be going to the chiropractor or the acupuncturist, and buying stock in Bengay. I’m not saying that Kung Fu can alleviate all that, but I’ve seen it happen many times through the dedication, faith, practice and belief in what you’re learning and utilizing it regularly. I’m not saying that the casual student is going to be able to do something like this. This comes only after years of dedicated practice and being able to link up the different systems in your body with your mind.
The practice of Kung Fu is a lot about taking those so-called involuntary systems that you take for granted and bringing them back under your control: the blood flow in your body, the flow of the chi, your breathing. These must all tie in with your thinking, unifying the mind and the body to maintain health, balance and well-being in the mental and physical realms. It’s nothing magical; there’s nothing mystical about it. Everybody’s heard the extraordinary examples of people being able to control their body temperature, being able to withstand the freezing cold or being able to control their breath and staying under water for a long time. These are extreme accounts, and I’m not claiming that this can be done through Kung Fu. But, through Kung Fu training, it is possible for you to gain an extraordinary sensitivity towards your body’s functions and their internal systems. You can gain control over yourself above and beyond the average individual that does not partake in this highly specialized type of training.
The average person may say, what kind of training is this, and how can I take part in it? Well, it’s nothing secret. I always tell my students that the secret is, there is no secret. The Kung Fu exercise or the form is there for everyone to learn. Everything is being presented from day one; this is my personal opinion. Being healthy before you start training is always desirable, but not absolutely necessary. The knowledge that one can gain from learning a particular form can produce amazing results if the individual practices guided by the hand of a senior master, but this depends on the amount of time, effort, energy and openness of mind and spirit that the individual can bring to his practice. The form doesn’t cheat you. It’s we who cheat ourselves or don’t allow ourselves to see what is being presented and the possibilities that can be gleaned from this type of training.
Most of the southern systems, especially the one that I train, are combinations of external and internal training, breathing, stretching, focusing the mind, as well as the fighting techniques of the tiger. The prevailing energy and power that is derived from this type of movement with this mentality, using the power and spirit of the tiger, has a special way of overriding all that might ail you. At least this is true for me. I’m not trying to sell you some kind of snake oil, but I’ve had personal experience over time with this practice. As I always say in class, despite how you may feel when you come in, you always leave energized and revitalized after practice. That’s not only because you’ve done a physical exercise, but you’ve gone through the cathartic process of clearing the internal energy that’s built up in you over the course of the day or days that you haven’t practiced. You need that flush and that special training that we do that combines all the different stances, bridge hands, breathing exercises and so on, and gives us that flush and then that rush of fresh brand new hot-out-of-the-oven chi. I’ve gotten comments from many people after they find out my real chronological age, do a double take and go “huh?” The median age people think I am is around 35, but what we should do is actually invert those numbers. It’s the training that sustains you and keeps you moving and growing and keeps you healthy and young.
In the study of Kung Fu/Chi Gung, I don’t like to separate the internal practice from the external practice. That’s breaking up the system, breaking up the yin and yang. I know other people who like to do that, but I feel that internal and external make one combination. It starts from day one where you first learn to stretch and take your first stance (horse stance). Traditionally, in our class, we train our breathing exercise in our horse stance as we train our bridge hand and tiger claw. Right away, if you’re taught properly, you start to create that mental imagery where you breathe in from your fingertips to your toes. Like a tree, you draw in all the power, in through the nose and out through the mouth. It sounds really simple and easy, but few people actually do it. Mentally take over the processes of breathing and draw in the power from the sky, from the ground and from yourself, and actually bring it in and out like a wave. You see the wave rolling up onto the shore and rolling back into the ocean, back and forth, and couple that special breathing sequence with the movements that you do. Do this enough and you can mentally guide the chi through the room.
Another great analogy would be the atmosphere that you’re in. The fish is in his atmosphere, which is the water, and they effortlessly use the water to move themselves about. Hence, they say, “That guy can swim like a fish.” The birds in the sky use the wind and the currents to help them soar, take off and land, so, us too. Our atmosphere is the air around us, which is another way of defining the chi: the air within and without the body. Through the training, we learn to to bring it in and bring it out and actually gain control and move it. And you say, well, how am I going to do this? In one way it’s difficult, but the process itself is rather simple. You can take any one particular movement that you like and slow it down, break it down into its components and slowly start taking all the edges off the move. For example, if you’re going to do a punch, instead of doing that punch with speed and power as you think it should be done, we’re going to slow it down. Start from the beginning of the movement and see it through its entire completion. I want to see the entire spectrum of the motion being done smoothly, cleanly and slowly with the breath. In every action, breathing in with every fiber, every cell of my body, drawing in the power, rooting myself through my stance, breathing in through the foot, through the hand. Taking the breath in through my dan tien, the lower diaphragm, and pushing it out smooth and clean until I’ve done this hundreds of thousands of times to understand what that action is and how to bring in that air and oxygen. I oxygenate my body, oxygenate my brain, rejuvenate every blood cell in my body and then slowly, in my mind, capture the essence of the chi. This is a very simple, brief explanation, but as one practices, over time they will gain an innate understanding of themselves and how to produce this energy. Through this practice, we tap into what we call 精神 jing sun. That’s what Kung Fu is ultimately about. It’s about unifying the mind and the body to derive the spirit. When the spirit is strong, then all the other systems can be strong.
So when I was practicing yesterday, my Sifu was saying as he was watching me, you were able to get that 邪氣 negative energy off of you. This is an amazing benefit that training a traditional Kung Fu system can bring to anyone that is willing to put in the time and effort. I don’t want to get too metaphysical, but every person has an aura around them. When your aura is strong, that 邪氣 negative energy can’t get through. The old Chinese believe that when you get sick or ill, mentally or physically, it’s because you’re not strong enough to withstand those things being sent to you. A good way to get rid of the “evil eye” is to have 正氣 good strong chi from learning good strong Kung Fu. Through the practice, derive better control of your mind, body and spirit. 邪不能勝正 When you have good chi, evil cannot win.
-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅