Asking questions is an important part of learning. There’s a reason why I always take time for Q&As in my classes and workshops — because it’s important! I expect to be answering questions for decades to come. That’s part of my mission to bring Qigong, Tai Chi, and Meditation into the 21st century. You can do your part by asking questions!
Here’s how the “Ask Sifu Anthony” series works.
- If you have a question for me, then post it in the comments section below.
- I’ll answer your question in NEXT month’s “Ask Sifu Anthony”.
- Comment below if you have follow-up questions to one of my answers, even if the original question wasn’t your own.
- Comment, like, or share this blog post if you’d like to see more of the same in the future.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the March edition of Ask Sifu Anthony! Your questions are below, along with my answers.
Practice Quantity vs. Practice Quality
Question: Which is better…practicing regularly everyday but the quality (state of mind) is mediocre, or practicing sporadically, but having very good, high quality practice? Basically, you’re asking me to compare the following two options.
Option #1: High quantity of practice, but low quality.
Option #2: High quality of practice, but low quantity.
The truth is that most students end up going back and forth between the two options. For example, on January 1st, 2000, I was fed up with myself and my irregular Qigong practice, so I vowed to practice Lifting The Sky every day, without fail.
As you can imagine, the quality was low. But by practicing every day, even with such a low quality, I gradually created a new habit.
Later that year I went to Malaysia to see my teacher. After a month in Malaysia, the quality of my practice jumped much higher. When I returned home, I already had the habit of practicing every day. Because of that habit, I was able to create a high-quality, daily practice.
In other words, I started with quantity, and then added the quality later.
The reverse also works. For example, I have a student who doesn’t practice often, but when she does, watch out! She goes deeply into the practice, the quality is very high, and she feels absolutely amazing at the end.
“But Sifu,” she said to me, “When I practice more often, the sessions aren’t always as powerful.” In other words, when she tries to increase the quantity, the quality suffers.
I’ll tell you what I told her: It’s okay! Not every session is going to be mind-blowingly awesome. Make peace with that fact. Sometimes it’s necessary to exert a little discipline in order to increase the dosage of your Qigong practice.
In other words, if you’ve already got the quality in place, then add some quantity (even if the quality suffers temporarily).
Frustration and Patience in Tai Chi
Question: I am only 2 months into my tai chi practice, and I have lots and lots of questions.
How should a new student approach frustration when the movements within the form don’t feel right or I can’t seem to land it correctly?
Also, is it best to work at developing patience within training and assume I will come to understand the movements in time, or should I pursue more one on one training with my instructor? (The main reason for this question is because our schedules are limited.) Since you are not my student, I should warn you that different teachers handle questions in different ways. Traditional teachers don’t typically answer questions the way that I do.
Typically, a traditional teacher would answer a question like this: “Just practice!”
I have a different approach. I prefer to answer questions directly. So here’s my answer.
Second of all, you need perspective. Tai Chi is a sophisticated art. It takes time to learn.
As a point of comparison, it typically takes 5 years to earn a black belt in Karate. If it takes 5 years to achieve a basic level of proficiency in an art like Karate, then how long will it take to learn Tai Chi, which is far more sophisticated?
Your frustration comes partially from a lack of perspective. You are not only allowed to make mistakes — you are expected to. Make lots of mistakes, and enjoy the process.
Qualities of a Good Student
Question: What in your opinion are qualities of ‘good student’? First of all, good students ask questions. So congrats! You’re off to a good start!
Second, good students practice. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have, if you don’t practice, you don’t progress. In fact, talented students often do worse because they’re not used to hard work. When they get passed by a hardworking, but less talented student, they often give up in frustration.
Third, you need not only an open mind, but a clear one. In Tai Chi terms, you need to be able to differentiate between real and false. For example, I have a student who was on medication for Crohn’s disease for years. It took her almost a decade to finally see that the Western approach was not working, that she was still in pain, and it was getting worse. Because of that clarity, and because she was willing to try alternatives, she is now off her meds, she is pain free, and she shows no signs of Crohn’s.
Fourth, good students are good people. The are sincere, honest, and kind.
Dealing With Jerks While Practicing in Public
Question: Every so often when I practice in public, a local practitioner might pop out of the woodwork and in our friendly conversations, inevitably they will request an exchange of skills, a sparring opportunity, or ask me to teach them a lesson. I don’t mind us “exchanging” demonstrations like how I may demonstrate a short sequence or set in exchange for them showing me what they do, but how would you recommend handling the latter two situations? Thus far, I’ve only really sparred with people who I was already friends.
It’s right out of a Kung Fu movie isn’t it! “Right then. What’s your style?”
I lived and practiced in NYC for years, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. If you practice in public, it’s a real problem.
I met some interesting people this way, and even learned a thing or two from them. But I also encountered a lot of jerks. So I started practicing at dawn. That weeded out a lot of the riffraff. But I still got interrupted sometimes.
If you don’t feel like chatting with the person, then draw a clear boundary. Prepare what you’ll say in advance Here’s a suggestion: “I’m sorry, but I’m concentrating on my own personal practice right now. I’m sure you can respect that. I’ll be done in 40 minutes if you want to chat then.”
By the way, you should know that if someone says, “Please teach me” in a situation like that, it probably means something else. Traditionally, it means “Let’s find out who should be teaching who!”
If you do feel like chatting, then just be polite. If they’re not polite back — well then, forget it! I don’t see the point in exchanging with impolite people.
One time, in a park in NYC, I was interrupted by a special kind of jerk. He asked me to spar, but I politely declined several times. Eventually, he insisted, and just started throwing techniques at me!
“STOP!” I said very loudly. He stopped in his tracks. “You’re attacking a total stranger who has repeatedly asked you to stop. That’s called assault.”
In other words, if you don’t want to spar, no one can force you! That’s because sparring is a cooperative drill. It takes two to tango. If one person is not willing to spar, then it’s not called sparring; it’s called self-defense!
Firecrackers and Fireworks
Question: Concerning the dynamic Qigong pattern “Firecracker” that you taught in Flowing Zen 201 this past weekend – What is the position of the hands prior to rising out of the “squat”? Palms facing out, in, opposing? Or does it matter? (I can’t find this pattern in Master Wong’s books.) First of all, the pattern you’re referring to is called “Fireworks”. It’s not in any of Grandmaster Wong’s books because I didn’t learn it from him. I learned it from one of my other teachers.
To answer your question, the wrists are slightly bent and the palms face out to the sides while you’re squatting, but you can relax the wrists and turn the palms to face toward your body as you are rising.
Iron Shirt vs. Zhan Zhuang
Hi Sifu Korahais! Thanks for allowing this opportunity to ask you questions!
I’ve done quite a bit of research into the various methods of iron body skills (by which I mean any type of training intended to allow a person to withstand blows without sustaining injury, including weapons). In my studies, I found your advice in [your teacher’s] forum.
As I am someone who practices taichi, and absolutely -loves- zhan zhuang, I was delighted to hear you explain that practicing internal methods alone can eventually result in the byproduct of iron skills.
Here’s my confusion though- I’ve rarely read anything else expressing this idea. All iron body/golden bell/iron palm/etc. methods worth anything have always emphasized the importance of qigong, but only in conjunction with striking objects/being struck by objects at some stage in the training.
So while, in theory, I want wholeheartedly to believe that zhan zhuang alone with develop iron skills, I just don’t see many people advocating that view. For instance, let’s take one of the 72 Shaolin Arts, the Iron Broom. For this method, the student is supposed to first cultivate the ability to stand in a horse stance for a couple of hours. Then he is to begin kicking a post buried in the ground until he can break it in half without injury. Simple enough. But if, as you say, zhan zhuang is enough to develop iron shins over time, then why does the author not simply say, “Cultivate the ability to stand in a horse stance for a couple of hours. Now continue doing this. Eventually you’ll be able to break stuff.”
Sorry for the long post. I just wanted to be clear. I love zhan zhuang, and I love simplicity. I would rather cultivate the iron arts holistically and from the inside-out, rather than practicing a bunch of separate external methods (i.e., iron palm, iron finger tips, iron forearm, iron abdomen, etc.). Your advice would be most welcome.
I’m quite sure I’m not the only one saying that Zhan Zhuang develops a form of Iron Shirt (or some call it Golden Bell). Off the top of my head, I remember reading stories about Wang Shu Jin, the famous Taiwanese master, and his resistance to punches. He attributed his skill to Zhan Zhuang, and did not practice any Iron Arts.
I’m not saying that Zhan Zhuang postures (I call these the Warrior Stances in my school) produce the same results as Iron Arts. They definitely don’t. For example, I practiced Zhan Zhuang, Cosmos Palm, One Finger Zen for years (all soft, Internal Arts), but I didn’t develop Iron Palm. My palm was powerful, but it wasn’t the same kind of power as Iron Palm.
At one point in my training, I decided to practice Iron Palm. I did it casually for about 6 months, mostly for fun. It clearly did something different to my palms. It was also a nice compliment to all of the internal training that I had done.
Recently, I’ve been playing with Iron Shirt (also for fun). When I hit myself with the bamboo, I can feel the qi rushing to the surface in response to each hit. It’s almost like dog training. It feels like I’m training the qi to respond each time I’m hit! (I should also mention that it feels awesome!)
In the end, if you want the full results of the various Iron Arts, then you’ll need to practice them! But doing lots of Zhan Zhang is essential.
Question: I have read on your site, when practicing Qigong inside, one should not practice in the restroom, which I can understand. Are there better rooms to practice in than others? Upstairs, in a basement, in a room over the basement? The more light, the more air circulation, the better. So upstairs in a bright, cheery room would be far better than in a dark, damp basement.
Weights and Isometrics
Question: Since you’re also lifting weights besides your Tai Chi training, I would like to ask you what you think of isometric exercises. Are they harmful compared to other strength exercises like weight lifting and push-ups? Do you also know how to breathe properly during these exercises?
I practice some isometric stretching, but I’m not sure if that’s what you’re talking about or not. Basically, I use tension (and breathing) in specific ways during particular stretches. I learned this isometric method in my Karate days, and then later read some books on it. I’ve found it to be useful for increasing flexibility, and I still use it.
Kids and Qigong
Question: I was wondering if you would recommend an age for starting Qigong? I have two young children (4&6) that for the most part want to do everything I do. I love encouraging their eagerness to try new things but also understand that most martial arts have very logical and reasonable age limits on classes.
First of all, Qigong doesn’t necessarily involve martial arts. There are different categories of Qigong. Click here to read more about those categories.
My approach to teaching kids, especially young kids like yours, is to just keep them interested. And a good way to keep them interested is to teach them martial arts! There’s no doubt about it: kids love Kung Fu.
Most of the Qigong rules that apply to adults just don’t apply with kids. They don’t have the same blockages as us, nor the same concentration, so you have to adapt things. And generally speaking, a little more action (like Kung Fu) is preferable to slow, repetitive Qigong exercises.
This is actually a big subject. I’ll start working on a blog post on topic. Thanks for bringing it up!
If you have questions for me, post them below in the comments. I’ll answer them in next month’s edition of Ask Sifu Anthony. Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.