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 April edition of Ask Sifu Anthony! Your questions are below, along with my answers.
Question: What is you view on herbal supplements? In Chinese medicine, every herbal supplement is custom-prescribed by an acupuncture physician. In the state of Florida, acupuncture colleges require over 450 credit-hours of training in Chinese herbology. When I was in acupuncture college, I had to memorize the properties of hundreds of herbs. And then we had to learn how to combine those herbs into formulas. It was a lot of work!
And let’s not forget about diagnosis. I can’t even count the number of hours we spent learning and practicing diagnosis. Obviously, if the diagnosis is wrong, then so is the prescription.
There’s no such thing as an herb or supplement that is good for everyone. For example, Ginseng can be wonderful for certain people, and damaging for others.
To answer your question — I think that herbal medicine is terrific when it is correctly prescribed. But I always cringe when students walk into a health food store and buy herbs based on something that they read in a book, or heard from a friend. One of my acupuncture professors summed it up perfectly, if a bit humorously, as follows: “Health food stores are some of the most dangerous places on the planet.”
Question: In your experience, why has spontaneous [qigong] been left out of qigong teaching? First of all, for those who may not be clear about the terminology, Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow and the Five Animal Play are both forms of spontaneous qigong, at least in my school. You can read more about the theory of spontaneous qigong in my article: The Secret of Energy Flow.
To answer your question, the reason most schools don’t teach it because most teachers don’t know it. And they don’t know it because the techniques were kept secret. Even now, even after I’ve bee teaching the secrets openly for nearly a decade, people still don’t know them. So you can imagine what it was in the past when masters only taught the secrets to select disciples.
Practicing in Public
Question: Do you find that students in a public setting tend to hold back [when doing spontaneous qigong]? Whether students hold back during spontaneous qigong depends on a few factors. The first factor is the student. Some students do better in private. If they lock themselves in a private room, then they find it easier to relax and let go.
On the other hand, some students find the opposite to be true. In other words, they are able to let go more easily in a group setting, with someone leading them through a session.
The setting itself is another factor. For example, some studios find it easier to relax in my studio, which has walls and doors that offer a form of psychological security. But others find it easier to relax out in the open, surrounded by nature.
The good news is that, with practice, students can learn to relax whether they are alone or in a group, indoors or outdoors.
Question: Is it absolutely necessary for a Kung Fu student to eventually practice hitting things? I know that a lot of force can be acquired even with just stance training or “ta chong” exercises, but I’m not quite sure if I’ve picked up the skill of, say, projecting my internal force from my palm and into a target (like breaking the bottom of two bricks or what-have-you). Probably the most drastic (ridiculous?) thing I’ve seen is a kung fu school that has a “program” of over ten different sorts of objects for a student to practice their strikes on to develop different types of force (like inch force, release force, shock force, and others). I have to admit, my jaw dropped a little at hearing about such a program.
Conversely, is it necessary for a student to practice “being hit” by other students? To be honest, I’d rather avoid that part if I could! You’ll get different answers from different teachers. I’ve gotten very different answers from my own teachers.
There are two basic camps. Teachers of external arts typically encourage students to hit things like bags, poles, and partners. Teachers of internal arts are typically at the other end of the spectrum, encouraging students to train qi and internal strength.
I’ve spent time in both camps. Here’s my opinion, based on that experience. As with most things in life, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Since I teach internal arts, my students spend the majority of their time training qi and internal strength. However, I also believe that, sooner or later, students need to spend some time hitting things.
The problem is that if you hit, say, a heavy bag too often, it can interfere with the development of qi. And this makes sense. The impact from hitting a bag forces the muscles and sinews to tighten, which in turn inhibits the flow of qi.
But if we never hit anything — not a bag, not bricks, not even another person in light sparring — then we have no idea of our own power, or lack thereof. We run the very real risk of deluding ourselves into thinking that we are more powerful than we are.
As for being hit, I’m not a fan of it. You need to learn to relax into light contact when sparring or doing drills, but that’s about the extent of it. Otherwise, we can train the remaining skills using specific drills, like blink training and Pushing Hands. And if you really want to be able to take punishment, then Iron Shirt is a far better choice that getting randomly hit during free sparring.
After the Honeymoon Phase
Question:I read blogs and study books, practice daily, attend class and train with my teacher’s videos. I’ve slowed down some of this a bit to let it all sink in, but I don’t want to lose my newly developed training habits. I want to maintain this as a lifelong practice.
So what does the student do after the ‘honeymoon phase’ starts to fade? How do we track if we are ‘staying on track’? How do we build joy while we’re building a routine? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. Getting students to become lifelong practitioners is my mission — a mission that will likely take me a lifetime.
You’re doing a lot of things right — reading blogs and books, practicing, attending class, using videos, etc. I would add goal setting to your list. Setting goals, and measuring your progress, is incredibly important. Read this article for more info on goal setting: How To Supercharge Your Practice.
The fact is, the majority of students will stop practicing, at least for a period of time. If I could say one thing to students who have gotten off track with their qigong practice it would be this: Try again! It might take a few more tries, but eventually, the habit will stick. In my experience, students who get off track, and then back on track later, often become some of the most successful practitioners. I include myself in that list.
The Importance of Pausing in Qigong
Question: How important is the pause between movements in qigong? In the grand scheme of things, it’s not terribly important. If you’ve read my article The #1 Mistake in Qigong, Tai Chi, and Meditation, then you know that the form is only worth 10% of your results.
However, the pausing also affects the breathing, which is worth 30% of your results. So if we combine the two, the pause in a qigong exercise can, at most, be worth 40% of your results. But since pausing is only one of many aspects of both the form and the breathing, it can’t realistically be worth the entire 40%.
Practicing From Books or Other Teachers
Question: How do I know if I can also practice lifting water (from Grandmaster Wong’s Tai Chi book) or other exercises from other teachers without detriment? Once you learn from me (which if I’m not mistaken will happen in Arkansas in June), then you’ll be in a much better position to learn out of books, or from other teachers.
First of all, the heart-to-heart transmission that students experience after learning from a master seems to change things for students, and permanently. It’s almost as if students are instantly attuned to the energy of the Cosmos (i.e. qi).
This doesn’t necessarily happen with all teachers. In my experience, it has only happened with a few, most notably with Grandmaster Wong. My students have reported the same thing, i.e. that it happens when learning from me, but not necessarily with all teachers.
Secondly, students who have learned spontaneous qigong from me (or another teacher, if you can find one) will be better able to avoid what you call “detriment”. In fact, when students somehow hurt themselves with faulty qigong practices, the solution is to practice spontaneous qigong. For example, I’ve had several students come to me (from other teachers) to repair the damage done by incorrect practice. In each case, I did the same thing — I opened their energy points, and taught them spontaneous qigong.
In other words, if you’re already practicing spontaneous qigong daily, then you’re constantly protecting yourself from any mistakes you might make. This gives you time to correct the mistakes, which happens naturally with practice and as you learn.
Generally speaking, avoid learning advanced qigong exercises from books, especially if they involve visualization. One of the students I mentioned above had made himself sick by practicing the Small Universe out of a book. Bad idea. I helped him regain his health, but hopefully, he’s learned his lesson!
Getting Fatigued After Qigong
Question: How does one moderate one’s body to not take in more energy than it can handle without symptoms of fatigue? I did 9 repetitions of 5 organ flow, and standing postures 1-2 minutes with healing sounds. About 20 minutes in time. I did feel the warmth and strength of my practice. I did experience fatigue an hour later. Is it the nervous system that gets fatigued. I understand that decreases time and repetitions will be effective. I am curious about the nature and location of this fatigue in my body. I’m assuming that you’ve learned “5 organ flow” and “healing sounds” from another teacher. In that case, it’s hard for me to give advice on exercises that I don’t teach.
I hate to sound like a broken record in this Q&A, but I recommend that you learn spontaneous qigong. No matter what type of qigong you are practicing, Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow will enhance it. I say that not based on conjecture, but based on my experience teaching hundreds of students who had previously learned other styles of qigong.
In qigong, we are either circulating energy, or cultivating energy (or both). For beginners, it’s more important to circulate energy than to build.
That’s why spontaneous qigong is so important — because it is the single most effect exercise I’ve ever found for circulating the qi. If you get the chance to learn it, then grab it!
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.From the heart, Sifu Anthony