The Wisdom of our Ancestors:
The Way of Shaolin Kung Fu Training

By Venerable Shi Guolin (with Gigi Oh & Gene Ching)

Shaolin kung fu is a major component of traditional Chinese martial arts. It is a conglomerate of traditional Chinese culture and Buddhist Zen (or Chan) culture that emphasizes the purification of mind and spirit. The training methods are unique, found only by cultivating Buddhist Chan doctrine. You could call it a combination of internal and external studies, with equal emphasis on both martial arts and Chan. You could also call it Chinese martial arts training with a Chan flavor. No matter, it starts from your internal and spiritual training and follows with your external and physical exercises. By letting your body movements follow your mind, you achieve "the combination of internal and external exercise" and reach "the equality of martial arts and Chan."

Shaolin kung fu is a major component of traditional Chinese martial arts. It is a conglomerate of traditional Chinese culture and Buddhist Zen (or Chan) culture that emphasizes the purification of mind and spirit. The training methods are unique, found only by cultivating Buddhist Chan doctrine. You could call it a combination of internal and external studies, with equal emphasis on both martial arts and Chan. You could also call it Chinese martial arts training with a Chan flavor. No matter, it starts from your internal and spiritual training and follows with your external and physical exercises. By letting your body movements follow your mind, you achieve "the combination of internal and external exercise" and reach "the equality of martial arts and Chan."

Over the last millennia and a half, during the long history and development of Shaolin kung fu, generations of Shaolin monks have absorbed the essence of may different martial arts styles. They summarized and condensed their training

experiences forming the unique treasure of Shaolin martial arts. Within these arts there is great wisdom reflecting the inner connections between human body, movements and the fundamental exercise methods. For a long time, this wisdom has guided and promoted the development of Shaolin kung fu. Here, I am sharing five fundamental training methods based on the wisdom of our ancestors and my own training experiences with all kung fu enthusiasts.

Training Flexibility (rou ruan xing xun lian)

In general flexibility is the first requisite for all styles of martial arts. This is because each movement of the martial arts requires flexibility in differ­ent areas and degrees. For example, if you are inflexible in your hips, ankles and legs, you won't be able to squat properly and your basic footwork will be faulty.This is especially true for the half-crouching horse stance ma bu, full crouch- pu bu - and resting stance xie bu. In pu bu,  your weakness is easily seen if your heel is off the ground or in xie bu your body is bent forward or leaning backward. Another example is when your shoulder and waist is inflexible. Without this, when you do a basic hand movement, the energy cannot be delivered smoothly. You cannot achieve the basic requirements of twisting the waist and sending energy through the shoulders. Therefore, flexibility is very important.

Flexibility can improve your agility/ increase the range of your joints, add control and improve the elasticity of your muscles. At the same time, it will augment the quality of the movement and prevent or reduce the dangers of getting hurt during practice. What's more, flexibility training is not limited to doing splits or touching your chin to your toes. That is only "Iocal" body flexibility training. You must attend to training flexibility in the entire body. Train your individual joints and every angle of your body first. Then you can enlarge the range of each joint, improve your control/ as well as your extension and absorption abilities.

Training Essential Requirements (dong zuo de gui ge)

Upon this foundation of flexibility, fundamental training includes various hand methods and techniques, footwork, foot and leg techniques, etc. In the process of training, each movement has its essential method and posture requirements. For example, when doing the "front" kicks, the height of the kicking leg may have to be gradually built up over time, but the requirement from the start is a straight leg, straight torso and expansion of the chest at all times and all levels. Another example, during the "right bow stance/ right - punch (gong bu you chong quan)", one must pay attention to twisting the waist/ closing the hip (so both hips face forward) sending forward the right shoulder as the left shoulder pulls back in the opposite direction.

These are the criteria for the power to reach the target smoothly and powerfully. If when you kick, your leg is not straight or your waist is bent, this bad posture will stiffen your front punch and you won't get the most impact. On top of that, the posture will look lousy and prevent any improvement of the technique. Therefore, understand the requirements of the movements. Achieving the most accurate postures possible is essential. After practicing incorrectly for too long, correcting them later will be very hard. This is what is meant by the old Chinese saying "Learning a fist form is easy. Correcting the wrong fist form is very hard. !xue quan rang y~ gai quan nan).

Training Internal Combined with External, Shape Combined with Spirit

(nei wei he yi, sheng xin jian bai)

After your training has met the above two requirements, you must pay particular attention to the relationship between internal and external, between shape lor body) and spirit (or mind). These interna/external and shape/ spirit relationships have many layers. When we refer to the human body, "internal" means your internal organs and the ascent and descent of your internal qi. "External" means your tendons, bones and skin, as well as limb exercises. "Shape", is your physical body, including your five facial organs, trunk, four limbs, tendons, bones, flesh, etc. "Spirit" is your mind and thoughts, your inner "shapeless" activities.

From the practice of taolu (forms) techniques, you can clearly see many close connections between your interna/external and shape/spirit. For instance, the eight fundamental martial arts training methods elucidate these conflicting relationships. Among the eight methods, your hands (shou), eyes (yan) body postures (shen fa) and footwork (buxin ) are external/shape movements. Spirit/Essence (jingshen), qi (power), and skill (gong) belong to the internal/shapeless realm.

Fists like a comet (quan ru liu xing)


Eyes like lightning (yan si dian)


Waist (torso) like a snake (yao(shen) ru ser xing)


Footwork must stick (bu sai nian)


Fill your spirit/essence (jingshen yao chong pai)


Sink your qi (qi yi chen)


Power must reach target smoothly(1i yao shun da)


Purify your skill (gong yi chun)

These are the essential requirements of the human body, spirit, mind energy and techniques in martial arts training. On the whole, internal and external, shape and spirit, are combined as one; but in between themselves, they are connected, influenced, controlled and penetrated by each other. The harmony of the outer shapes depends on the harmony of internal movement and vice versa. Spirit is the foundation of shape (shen wei xing zhi ben) and shape is the employment of spirit (xing wei shen zhi yong). Thus, martial arts movements are not simple muscle exercises of extension and contraction. They depend on the expression of shapeless internal movements.
You use your mind to lead your qi. Use your qi to generate power. Use the shapeless qi to connect external shapes. Use the external shapes to show the internal shapeless power. The energy inside is qi and the energy outside is power. This is the unique way of ancient Chinese training methods.

Training Rhythm (jiezou de xun lian)

Rhythm is a very important characteristic in martial arts training. According to our ancestors there are 12 types of likenesses to describe rhythm:

Move like a crashing tidal wave (dong ru tao)


Repose still like the mountain (jing ru shan)


Jump like the ape (qi ru yuan)


Land like the magpie (Iuo ru xi)


Stand balanced like the rooster (Ii ru ji)


Stand erect like a pine tree (zhan ru song)


Spin like the wheel (zhuan ru lun)


Bend like the bow (zhe ru gong)


Light like the leaf (qing ru ye)


Heavy like iron (zhong ru tie)


Hover like the eagle (huan ru yin)


Fast like the wind (kuan ru fong)

During martial arts form practice, within each movement - each combination and every section - the relationships between fast and slow, up and down, soft and hard, and emptiness and fullness have to be just right. The entire set must be very fast, but these relationships are very important for the continuous changes of tempo. In performing a set, managing these conflicting yet connecting elements will directly influence the rhythm and quality of the movements. Without a rhythm, the form is plain and unattractive. For example, if the form lacks absolute stillness, it cannot show the fast movement of a tidal wave. Only the contrast of softness will enhance the power of hardness. Without the slow, initiates cannot feel fast acceleration. In high level techniques, the more contrast shown in each conflicting movement, the stronger the rhythm will be.

Training Power (jing iI de xun liang)  

 

 

Jing Ii is the degree of power you execute during martial arts training. It comblnes two stages: stored power (xu li) and explosive power (fa li). These two powers are inseparable. During martial arts training, if you want to have power in each movement, you must first learn how to have xu li. Xu li is the stored energy primed to explode. It requires every part of your body to be "loose but not loose (si song fei song)" and "tight but not tight (si jin fei jin)." This means maintaining your body - up and down, front and back, left and right, moving and still - to stay loose but not so loose as to lose control, and alert but not so alert that you tighten up your body. You must achieve a balanced loose and alert stage of readiness.

 

If your body is too tight, your power cannot be smoothly delivered. If it is too loose, your body will be too relaxed and you will not be able to gather your energy together. Therefore, the power of the fist depends upon the balance of softness and tightness. At the ultimate moment of exploding power, every part of your body contributes energy. Also, the balance must be kept so that immediately after releasing the power - you can relax every part of your body to prepare for another fa jin (energy explosion). For example, when you execute a punch, in order to deliver power from your entire body to your fist, you must adjust your posture, sinking your shoulders and dropping your elbows first. For another example, the correct posture of a springing kick (tan tui) is to bend your leg and lift it up to your waist so your upper thigh is in a horizontal line. You use your knee as a pivot point, forming a certain initial velocity. This is the relaxed stage. Then accelerate as you kick out your foot. The energy comes out through the top of your foot. This is the intense stage. The entire movement needs to be continuously adjusted between loose and tight. If you kick out your foot prior to lifting your thigh leg to waist level, you won't have enough power. If you fail to kick out your foot quickly after lifting your thigh, you won't have a powerful kick either. Without combining the powers generated during the initial or accelerating stages, you fail to catch the right timing for executing the kick.

Also, when you explode the power in fa li, you must combine it with your breathing. Inhalation is the relaxed stored power stage to prepare your body to fa jin. Exhalation is the intense explosive power stage. Use your internal qi to support and send the power. How to use inhalation and exhalation for harmony and balance is very important to increase your power. Lastly, I hope all martial arts enthusiasts can absorb the wisdom of our ancestors. Manage the few points above well, maintain a good exercise regimen and proceed forward at a pace appropriate to your character.

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