"It takes the extraordinary to see the ordinary."
In April my teacher, Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi, returned to Minnesota to teach a weekend workshop at my Academy. The last time Master Choi was here was in 2009 for a combination birthday party, seminar, and book-signing. Although I have studied with him in Chicago after that, this was the first time he came back, and out of retirement, to teach a weekend workshop featuring Hsing-Yi, Pa-Kua, Chase-Hands, and an introduction to the Liu Ho Pa Fa Main Form. Students came from as far away as Northfield, Grand Rapids, and Mankato to be with the master again.
The first day was for travel and social time, but Master Choi filled my head, body, and notebook! I was able to fill in lots of gaps I had in Master Choi's biography, and updated many more details from his extraordinary life. I have been practicing the Wim Hof Method for a few months, and showed Master Choi some videos of the breathing method and cold exposure techniques. This opened Pandora's Box! Sifu Choi discussed his breath holding practices that he used at the bottom of the pool at the YMCA. He also went into great detail about his breath practices and methods.
At one point, he was talking about the Small Heavenly Circle, when he said, "I didn't believe it was real. I thought it was for focusing the mind during Standing Meditation. But once I felt it, I knew it was real." He then reviewed with me his technique, which I had learned, and have been practicing since the 90's. Choi then said, "Do you want to feel my ch'i going around my body?" ( Umm, yeees...) I said yes and he put one of my hands on his forehead and one on his abdomen. He started to breathe and I felt an electric current running and moving along his torso! There was actual pressure expanding out from his skin, as well as tingling and heat! I could feel it going around in a circle like a Ferris Wheel, or a snake writhing under his skin.
I had a ton of questions that I accumulated from my practice, and we spent the rest of the night answering and discussing them. All his answers were to the point, succinct, yet deep and insightful. We also discussed the difference between style and method. For many years I heard "don't talk about style." We made a rough outline of Master Choi's method, and made plans to catalogue and share it through seminars, workshops, and a book.Then it was off to bed and get ready for the next day and the beginning of the Seminar.
The first session was on the 5 Fists of Hsing-Yi and the 5 Element Linking Form. Right from the start Master Choi taught about the martial arts standards and his methods to achieve them. I put up huge post-it notes and wrote out many of the principles he discussed. This also helped people acclimate to Master Choi's heavy accent. He taught that your alignment in forms, which he calls balance, and your alignment for fighting and application, which he calls structure, are the same, but the angles need to be changed to meet the situation of another person's body and technique.
Lots of great ideas and confirmations on how to train 9 Joint Harmony and achieve the standard of "start together, stop together." Many questions were answered and the students finished the session inspired by what they learned, and Master Choi's demonstration of the speed and power of his Hsing-Yi, at the tender age of 78!! He "walked the walk" for those who had not witnessed his energy and power in person.
A break and lunch at my house with a few students was anything but a rest for Master Choi. We had all finished eating when I said he needed to stop teaching and eat! We all had a big laugh at that, but people saw that he does not just teach at classes or seminars, his whole being and life is teaching, even over lunch. Students were genuinely amazed at the amount of energy and stamina Master Choi possesses, at age 78.
The afternoon session was on the first two movements from the Liu Ho Pa Fa Main Form. Here Master Choi went over in great detail the principles of relaxation, alignment, breath, harmony, and feeling. He not only taught the principles and standards, he got everyone to experience them as well. There was so much detail and feeling, not to mention applications, in those two movements, that we all left with our heads and bodies full.
Saturday night a group joined Master Choi for a banquet at Peking Garden. So many good dishes were ordered and shared. Master Choi shined, telling stories and going around the tables to personally thank each one for being there and for attending his seminar. We went back to my house and Sifu Choi continued with many stories from his early days living and training in Hong Kong. At one point I got out a bottle of scotch and we all had a wee dram. At 11:00 I had to get everyone out and drive Master Choi back to his hotel (I was sober by then). My joke was, everyone under 78 has to go to bed now! Choi was on fire and said the scotch was a "cup of ch'i!"
At lunch the second day, Master Choi talked about the article he wrote for the Illinois Martial Arts Hall of Fame dinner he attended. He was inducted last year and his acceptance speech was so well received , that he was asked back to address the group again. Sifu Choi asked me to read it aloud to the group of students present, and he watched their understanding and reactions as I read it aloud. He said it was from his experience and insights from over 60 years of martial arts practice, especially the internal. He then told me to make it available for everyone. Here it is, study and enjoy!
MASTER WAI LUN CHOI — SPEECH 4-1-17 IL MA HOF Banquet
Martial arts practice is not just for self-defense. It also has great value in promoting and maintaining our health as we grow older.
It is well known that from birth until about age 30, the body is generally strong and vibrant. After 30 years of age the body naturally starts to slow down. After 30 one's overall energy starts to go down and many people easily become tired from vigorous physical activities. While this natural change with aging affects many people, some individuals are able to avoid these negative affects. One of the reasons many people have low energy as they age is that when doing physical activities they only use hand power, and do not use whole body mechanics. The old masters identified that using only hand or muscle power in this manner, in martial arts training, is described as external style martial arts.
In 1971 at the age of 31, I challenged myself in order to test my courage, and signed up to compete in the all Southeast Asian hand to hand tournament. After this tournament, as I began getting older, I started to feel my energy and endurance begin to lessen. It was at this time that I began to analyze and study the internal style training principles and methods in more detail. In studying the classic writings of the old masters I noticed that the founders of the internal martial arts were also interested in understanding this problem of decreasing energy that occurs as we age. The masters figured out that by using whole body mechanics, leverage, comfortable breathing and gravity they were able to prevent the fatigue, low energy, and weakness often associated with aging.
The masters of the internal martial arts realized that the first thing one has to learn is to completely relax the whole body. They also understood that one has to learn how to get the whole body united as "one piece". A united body structure and proper body mechanics allows you to move as a single unit. This principle was later described by Newton in his second law of motion, which states that "force equals weight times speed". Based on this law of physics, when one moves with the whole body connected as one piece, greater amounts of force can be generated. An example of this type of whole body power is illustrated in the power generated by a battering ram used to break through a strong door. The internal methods that the old masters developed and practiced involve using mind and whole body mechanics, not using muscle power alone. If you only use muscle power, you just use your hand and muscles, and do not use your whole body weight. The masters of old also understood that in addition to getting the body structure to be united as one piece, it is also important to develop harmony of motion. When we talk about harmony of motion we are referring to the coordinated opening and closing of the nine main joints in the body.
Returning to the topic of whole body relaxation, the reason why it is so important to relax completely is that when you're relaxed, your breathing will be natural and comfortable. We all know that we breathe in order to get oxygen into our bodies, and to circulate the oxygen through the body, so we can have the energy we need to move. When one is not relaxed one's breathing is shortened and delivers less oxygen into the body. This will cause fatigue to occur. Not being able to relax can create other problems as well. First there is the problem of mental pressure, which will create tension in the body and affect one's energy and speed. In addition, if you are tense in the body for too long. this depletes the oxygen in your body quickly, and you become tired and thus slower in movement. Excessive mental and physical tenseness can also lead to damage of one's nervous system, musculoskeletal system, circulatory system, and can potentially cause damage to the heart as well. When we understand the effects of this type of tenseness, it should motivate us to practice relaxation exercises in order to prevent these negative health effects. One of the most effective ways to develop whole body relaxation is through standing meditation practice. This kind of meditative relaxation exercise can be called a "natural medicine". Relaxation practice of this type has many health benefits and costs no money at all. Standing meditation relaxation practice can help reduce and prevent much of the illness, sickness and suffering that frequently occurs as people age. However, we should also remind ourselves that proper nutrition, healthy eating as well as regular aerobic exercise are important for maintaining good health as we age. In addition, regular check ups with one's health care provider is recommended for the overall prevention of illness and medical problems associated with aging.
In closing, let me say that although we know that one day we will all have to leave this world, it's very important for us to do what we can to maintain our health and energy as well as to limit our sickness and suffering as we age. When eventually it is our time to pass on, the best we can hope for is to leave this world naturally and peacefully, and if possible, with a minimum of sickness, illness and suffering.
The second day started with the 64 Mother Palms of Pa-Kua. He said the Pa-Kua forms teach you to change your structure for defense and to find the "no-support angle" of your opponent, the place where their structure is weak. He took the principle of 9 Joint Harmony and showed how it was used in a circle, both for movement and for application.
During some applications, Master Choi fired off some lightning fast front kicks. There were a half dozen black belts there and their jaws dropped. From my experience, those were the fastest kicks I'd ever seen in over 40 years of martial arts. Not to mention he is 78 years young! I reminded him his master, Chan Yik-yan gave him the nickname, pao-choi or cannon hand. Now me, his student, is giving him another nickname, sim dim toi, the lightning kick!
At the end, Master Choi thanked everyone and said it was the best and most successful seminar he ever taught. He was impressed with the interest, appreciation, and dedication of all present. I noticed he not only watched people practice, but he watched them when he taught and explained. After the group thanked Master Choi and bowed, he thanked them, and then launched into another lesson!! We made plans for him to come back in the Fall, and a possible road-trip this Summer. Can you say semi retired?
Sunday night we had a small dinner for Master Choi at Hong Kong Noodle in Stadium Village. The best thing to do when eating with Choi is to let him order, I'm never disappointed! Steamed fish, amazing BBQ and sharing with everyone as Sifu Choi again told stories and talked with everyone. One student, Rick, a math professor at the U of M, had a lively discussion with Master Choi about physics and Choi's teaching of "human physics". Afterward, Choi asked me to have Rick write a foreword for the next edition of my Real Gold book which he wants me to re-publish. Some one on one time at my house, then we called it a day. Master Choi was pleased with the whole weekend and let me know many times.
Monday was reserved for private students. One thing they asked, and Master Choi was asked this all weekend, was how do we know when what we are doing is correct? Choi answered, "If you are following the principle, or the standard, like being in balance with smooth deep breathing, then you are doing it correctly. It is right." However, one time he said, "I'll make it easy for you. Trust yourself, don't worry about right or wrong. It will only make you tense. If you feel comfortable, then you are correct."
During one private class my student Bruce, a black belt instructor, very respectfully asked Master Choi if he could try some sensitivity with him. It is no disrespect to Bruce to say that Choi easily handled the over 200 pound, younger guy, and gave him a lesson on speed, power and softness that he will never forget. Bruce couldn't land a punch! Master Choi struck, controlled, chin-na, and defended with ease. Master Choi walked the walk!
Then Choi pulled out all his demo favorites. He had them punch him in the stomach with full power. He pushed them into the mattress with ease. He let them feel his tan-tien while he moved through martial arts techniques,all the time breathing calmly and smoothly. Students coming in for the day class were amazed to see huge guys punching Master Choi as he smiled and talked!!
Before I knew it, Master Choi was ready to get on the plane back home, and my head was spinning! So much energy, information, and pure fun. We discussed and made plans to catalogue his method and make it available to the public. As I looked over the seminar notes, one page jumped out. It was like a poem of Master Choi's teachings. I showed it to him and he said yes, he wrote us a poem.
All defenses are closed
Everything in physics says round is strong
Lean to use gravity
Run like a monkey
Alertness, not just in spirit, but also in the body
The old masters are the engineers, we are the builders
Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi
Here are some of the notes I took that weekend:
Any tension uses up your oxygen, stillness saves oxygen.
Under-use, you loose the skill, over-use, you weaken the body, you must balance your time and training.
The reason little kids jump up and down when they are happy or excited, and stamp their feet when they are mad, is because they have not lost the whole body connection yet. They naturally have the outside harmony, and inner and outer harmonies together. We have to train to get that connected-ness again.
Pain in the body mostly comes from wrong eating or wrong exercise.
Relaxation is the first level to clean yourself up.
Deep breathing exercises your internal organs.
Any contact you have to have structure and support. You can't see it. It's by feeling the body automatically adjusts.
Time is not speed, distance is speed.
Long distance only one foot or hand can hit. Close distance all four can hit.
When you Tai-gong, point your tail bone at your heels.
When the Classics say "plumb," that is the invisible center-line, not the external position.
Do forms by feeling, not application.
Everyone dies. try to have no suffering while you live.
I look forward to bringing Master Choi back to the Academy and continuing the next stage of his teaching career.