Friday, October 9, 2015

The skills of chi kung and quick fix healing

A few years ago, I broke a metatarsal in my right foot and needed a cast. Like everybody else, after treatment, in the healing process, I had to pay visits to the hospital's physiotherapy department. The physiotherapists there coach patients individual healing exercises. These exercises looked like quick fixes that one can find in healing books.

Knowing that I am a chi kung practitioner and amateurishly teaching the stuff, the physiotherapist smiled, "That will make my task a lot easier!". He told me that those patients who were proficient in chi kung could easily focus on individual muscles/tendons while doing the healing exercises. The healing effect would be more effective and speedier, and without the need of constant supervision by the therapist. He was absolutely right. This however brings up another question: "How about those who do no prior training in chi kung?" The answer is obvious. The healing effect will be less effective in the end and such less perfect results will take a longer time!

I had back pain when I was in my twenties. At that time, I had not been spending much time in my practice (to the disappointment of my father and sifu), every couple of months I had to visit a medical doctor and took pain killers when my inflammation surfaced - and they did come quite regularly! Too busy with other things in my life, I took this as acceptable.  Sometimes I would also read a page in a book or magazine, and would do quick fix healing exercises trying to ease my back pain. Without supervision, they never worked as promised. Giving up was the norm rather than exception, until the next quick fix advice came promising good results. And now I know why!

Despite the fact that I am still busy with other things in my life (well these are important things), I have been doing regular chi kung, tai chi and meditation for the past decades. And I also coach some private students, some regular others some irregular, depending on my schedule and other commitments. Learned from my own experience, I always tell my students that they are NOT learning some quick fix techniques from me. They are learning a SKILL that can be applied to all kinds of healing methods, quick fix or not quick fix (the not quick-fix will include other mind-body practices like yoga or internal martial arts). I like to call my teaching "zhan zhuang chi kung" because it centre around the practice zhan zhuang - the most powerful and effective exercise to learn the skills of chi kung.

My advice to practitioners of chi kung and other internal arts - the most important thing is to cultivate the skills of chi kung. Such skill include the ability to generate a massive amount of chi, shoulder and hip joints opening, breathing muscles conditioning and heightened internal sensation to do chi balancing. These skills apply to seated meditation too.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Inspired by Cello and Wing Chun

On 1st October National Day my wife and I were invited to attend a very special concert called One Moment - when cello meets Wing Chun, Unleash the power of one thought by Cellist Clara Tsang, Wing Chun sifu Lei Ming Fai, with pianist Zhang Jiao. In Hong Kong, there are main stream government supported concerts and art programs, and there are self-financed persons and groups, some of professional standard while others amateurish, who put their heart into making their respectively art form with their own vision. If one is looking for anything new, fringe or experimental, one has to go after the non-main streams. My wife and I came to the right place that evening.

I am not on top of western instrumental music, and is not familiar with cello pieces (I played Chinese flute and was a amateur player for group till I left University). The music repertoire of the evening (Shostakovich's Op.40 and Myaskovsky's Op. 81) took me by surprise as they are very refreshing, the former has a more complex musical structure while the latter is more passionate and therefore touching. The repertoire harmonized well with Wing Chun which sifu Lui performed with variation in speed, power and application. In the beginning a short video was shown in the background delivering the philosophical note of the performance: finding one's centre line as like finding the meaning in one's life. The whole performance gave me a flair of situation-specific art commonly exhibited in today's contemporary art museums: it can only happen here! If you ask me for any possibility of improvement, I would say the creative inputs of a choreographer can be useful in enriching the art-form as presented.

I also find sifu's interpretation of Wing Chun very refreshing. Wing Chun nowadays, in particular in the West, has been stereotyped as a no-nonsense fighting art (and this positioning put some Wing Chun practitioners in verbal, if not in physical, conflicts with some MMA practitioners).  Sifu Lui also practises Chinese tea-ritual (not the same as Japan's Tea ceremony which in more Zen like) and Buddhism, that probably help making his Wing Chun (as well as his personal presence) more harmonized with the performing art as presented.

Final applause has to go to cellist Clara to make it all happened. It is no easy task singularly treading the music or art field with no main stream support. Yet it is the best way to remain independent so that new ideas can easily be tested - without possible bureaucratic hindrance.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Zen fart

It started with this interesting Zen story featuring famous Chinese writer and poet Su DongPo (蘇東坡) in Sung Dynasty. As an outspoken intellectual Su could not win favor with the Emperor and later in life he was demoted to become an official in the far away Southern provinces. Such transfer was a blessing in disguise, good for his writing and his Zen practice. He had little to do, got leisurely environment and above all could mingle everyday with like minded intellectuals and enlightened monks and Taoists. He chose his resident next to a quiet river just opposite a famous Buddhist monastery by the name of Golden Peak. The monastery was presided by the famous Zen master Fou Yin. Taking this great opportunity, Su often engaged in Zen talks with the master and learned a lot from him.

One day during deep meditation, Su experienced something very special, and he thought he got his enlightenment. Being a famous poet, he beautifully expressed his inner experience by a little poem.


Translated as (by me)

Humbly bowed my head below all skies
Minutest lights shine through my deepest bounds
Immovable by strong winds from eight sides
Upon purplish gold lotus I seated straightly by the low mound

The poet was pleased that he had traveled a deep journey and got enlightened. He asked his servant to sail across the river to bring his poem for the perusal of the Zen master, presumably expecting a praise. Upon reading the poem, the master scribbled two characters and asked the servant to bring it back to Su.

Su was shocked by the comment: "Bull shit" (literally "fart" 放屁).

"If you don't like my poem, that's fine. I share with you because I consider you are my friend. Why called my inner experience "bull shit" ("fart")! Old monk, I am going to confront you in person."  He immediately asked his servant to sail him back to see the monk.

Knowing the poet's intention to get an answer, our master said calmly to his angry friend, "My honorable friend, you said you are 'Immovable by strong winds from eight sides', yet you are blown across the river by a simple 'fart'! ("八風吹不動, 一屁過江來) Our poet was embarrassed and said no more.

Today we read and hear so many wisdom talks by gurus and common people alike. Yet many of these wisdom talkers will be blown into flame by the slightest negative comment from their respective audiences. Not to worry, they find kindred soul with one of the greatest writers and poets in Chinese history, Mr. Su DongPo (蘇東坡).

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In memory of my friend Si Kit

We do not see intelligent people everyday. Yesterday when I was searching for some old emails, an unrelated email dated 20 Jan 2010 from a now deceased old friend suddenly popped up on my screen. Reading it still touched me. I do not believe in Divine intervention. But no matter what reason (there must have a synchronized legit physical reason) that the email popped up my screen, I decided to write this post.

Si Kit's instant grasp of the concept of chi kung shocked me when I gave him a zhan zhuang lesson some five years ago. Here is Si Kit's email sharing his medical report and his enlightened view on life with his friends (I have omitted private information relating to his medical reports) :

Dear friends,

Yesterday, I returned to QM to see Dr xxx. He said that the tumor continued to
decrease in size. In the letter he wrote to TCM Practitioner, he said that
there is partial response of tumour to treatment….
I guess I can live longer than expected…..

There is another Chinese saying: Oldman Choi got his horse, isn't it a misfortune?

Mathematicians like to generalize. The following is a "generalization" of the
philosophy in the two stories of Oldman Choi:

Not happy for matter; not sad for self.

By the way, I have put some math materials in the website

You are welcome to use any material there (if there is anything useful to you:)

Si Kit

In his email, Si Kit had in mind this popular Chinese story Oldman Choi lost his horse, isn't it a blessing? 塞翁失馬,焉知非福. He was referring to the second story which is less popular: Oldman Choi got his horse, isn't it a misfortune? 塞翁得馬,焉知非禍。Apparently he was referring to the "encouraging" test result. And he generalized the story, as he said as a mathematician (he taught the subject in the University of Hong Kong), as Not happy for matter; not sad for self.

"Not happy for matter", he spent his time organized valuable learning materials in mathematics for the free consumption of the public. Now the site is still maintained by a good friend of his. He was a great teacher and I find his materials highly useful for people who are interested in understanding the conceptual system of modern mathematics.

"Not sad for self"- he didn't waste his time trying to find miracle cures from "miracle healers" and "miracle potions" in China and South East Asia (like some folks did). None of these was his cup of tea. I was delighted that he was willing to listen to me and spend a session learning zhan zhuang chi kung from me.

He was still physically strong when he had his lesson. I did the usual routine to ease him into meditative state (between asleep and awake). With his eyes closed, I helped him generate chi with the classic finger touch and elbow ease (or support). He quickly got into the zone.

When he opened his eyes again, I could see him feeling relaxed and had experienced the internal sensation of chi. "Now you know what is chi" I told him. And he replied, "Yes I do, and I also know what is chi kung now". I was very surprised and asked "So what is chi kung?", not without a tiny feeling of disbelieving amusement inside. His answer shocked me "Chi kung is to use every possible means (in Chinese it is "Thousand means and hundred tricks" 千方百計") to make this chi sensation strong and to make it occupy every part of your body".

He was absolutely right! And it was his first lesson. This conclusion can only come from an intelligent person with a heightened sense of internal sensation. He had entered the inner door of chi kung on day one. He will always be in my heart - my friend Si Kit.

"His quiet courage and clarity of purpose inspired all who knew him at his final moments."

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fitness industry and "musical tai chi"

Fitness is a big industry in Hong Kong. I am talking about the bourgeoning fitness centers around town. Now the in-things are yoga featuring Cirque du Soleil kind of hanging from fabric wraps and Thai-boxing, both for men and women alike. The latest game joining the "in-thing group" is boxing, after local wonder kid Rex Tso's success in the ring. Rex is the first Hong Kong professional boxer. He has an impressive recording of 18-0 (with 10 KO/TKO). Second in line for world champ, title fight said to happen in his next. It all looks impressive until some gyms having expanded too quickly that they started selling packages with high-pressure selling. The most recent case is a local gym after having sold a 1-2 year gym package to a lady, a week later, sold her a 1-2 year private coach package with a personal trainer on Thai-boxing. Apparently the personal trainer was so delighted that he gave the lady a bear hug from the back which the lady was not too impressed. The lady reported the case to the Consumer Council and the police. The gym and personal coach contracts were cancelled, they settled the money part with the lady with a confidentially seal. The personal trainer however is facing a trial for indecent assault in a Court of the law.  Things are getting unreasonable, and sometimes farcical, here.

Our public parks are getting farcical too. Tai chi and chi kung have always been a quiet game in our public parks. People do tai chi elegantly in the open, fees are low and folks can just pop in. Easy come easy go, except for serious practitioners and sifu who insist on doing their art in the inner circle way (I shall talk about what I consider modern inner circle training in a later post). The way they do things in mainland China is sometimes quite different. People in China have a high tolerance to noise, some say a remnant of blasting loudspeakers in the heydays of the Cultural Revolution. Walking down a busy pedestrian street in any city of China during public holidays can convince overseas visitors that wearing a pair of nice ear plugs while shopping is not a bad idea at all! Some tai chi groups in local parks have picked up the habit, or more likely the habit has been brought in by teachers from the mainland, or trained in the mainland. No, they are not dancing. Steps are not following the music when doing tai chi forms. They just love the loud sound! And for that matter, chi kung and all kinds of schools of exercises/movements as well...all being accompanied by this or that kind of music. Fair to say, fortunately, they are still the minority.

As a final touch, one or two teachers are beginning to incorporate "yelling" into their training too. It is a fact that "voicing" is a training technique for some legit schools/lineages, but with due consideration to passers-by, and not to scare the kids, practitioners would reserve that part to their private practice at home. Not so nowadays. When people walk through Victoria Park (in Causeway Bay) on Sunday morning, the "lucky ones" will be woken up by some folks suddenly started yelling" HA, HA, HA, HA...".  Having seen/heard that, I bet laughing yoga folks will come to Hong Kong pretty soon.

Laughing yoga

Monday, September 7, 2015

Will tai chi hurt your knees?

Students of tai chi may have heard about tai chi knees. Some people do tai chi for years and end up with knee pain. So much so some doctors in Hong Kong advised their patients with knee pain not to practise tai chi! Is tai chi really the cause? Is the condition of tai chi knees a result of good tai chi practice or faulty tai chi practice? I put myself to the test yesterday.

It is the beginning of Autumn in Hong Kong. The weather is still very hot (some 32 degrees Celsius) but eager hikers can't wait any more. I started my walk from my alma mater The University of Hong Kong up the Victoria Peak. The uphill road I chose, Hatton Road, is of moderate gradient. It is a family trail with moderate difficulty. Most of the path is shaded, though the weather was so hot that my sweater was soaked with sweat when I arrived the public toilet at the end of the road which joints the level circular trail round the peak. I changed into a dry sweater. After finishing my bottle of mineral water,  I turned left and proceeded along the longer end of the trail. Along the route, there are a number of sighting points where one can enjoy different panoramic views of the city. Tourists enjoying the view and some took selfie. Locals like me moved on.

At the Peak one can take a break and enjoy a bottle of cold drink. The unsuspecting tourists lined up at the prominent 7-11 for a coke while locals like me took the elevator to the third floor to buy the same drink from the supermarket there saving 30 to 40%.

After refreshing myself, I took the challenge going downhill Old Peak Road. According to official statistics, Old Peak Road has the greatest gradient in downhill road in Hong Kong. Its maximum gradient is 17 degree and its total length is 560 meters. Not easy task for senior citizens at 60! Downhill I walked, without stopping. It took me some 40 minutes to sea-level, arriving at Admiralty MTR station passing Bank of China Building where there was a magnificent sculpture - Tai chi by famous Taiwanese sculptor Zhu Ming.

I did not feel any knee pain yesterday nor any discomfort in my knees as I am typing on my laptop now. I passed the test.

In a coming post, I shall discuss what chi kung training methods will be needed to protect our knees instead of hurting them.

Zhu Ming's famous Tai chi sculpture in Bank of China building

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Inspired by Tao Te Ching - chapter 49



My translation of Chapter 49 of Tao Te Ching:

A sage does not look at things from one perspective
His heart is at one with that of everybody

A pious person, he accepts
An impious person, he accepts too
This is the Taoist morality of compassion

A person who does not trust him, he trusts him in return
A person who does not trust him, he trusts him too
This is the Taoist morality of faith

Everybody feels the sage is with him
And he views through the eyes of everybody
In the eyes of the sage, everybody is a child needing protection

Paul’s comment: "Let a hundred flowers blossom, and the end result will take care of itself", the Taoist way of thought on human and public affairs. Oftentimes parents, teachers, governments, and generally speaking people in authority try to intervene too much. A tree is to be tended with care, acceptance and faith, rather than to be commanded at. And trees do compete among themselves for limited resources, most evidently in jungles around the Equator. Only through mutual trust between the govern and the governed can a solution be found on human issues and conflicts. The ball is always in the court of those in authority. Common people express their opinions and negotiate a solution, people on top need to "let a hundred flowers grow". This is the Taoist way of action, through non-action: on top.

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