Grandmaster Lam Sai Wing 1860-1943
Because martial art to the scholar is like a shield, it may be said that scholarly learning without the martial is incomplete.
From my childhood until present I have studied martial art for more than sixty years. Fortunately, my teacher favored me to become his successor. And so, while I still feel the need to improve my skill, as both friend and stranger alike have urged me to pass on my knowledge, for the past ten years I have done so.
I cannot take credit for being one to have slowly and carefully guided students down the path of learning. The mutual exchange between those students and myself, over the years, has been immeasurable.
Martial art, as a field of endeavor, is easy to learn yet difficult to refine. First necessary is to understand its governing principles and, equally, its accuracy of form. Then, as one’s movements gain strength through correct breathing practice, one’s bridging skills must be smoothly connected. Once this is clear then progress comes naturally.
Experimentation leads to understanding the potentialities of change in application of the system’s ‘Lateral/ Direct’, ‘Swallowing/ Spitting’, ‘Advancement/ Withdrawal’, and ‘Outward/ Inward’ movements, the ‘Four Hidden Attainments’, the ‘Five-Gate Rule’, ‘Octagonal Form’, and ‘Avenues of Life or Death’.
The ‘Four Hidden Attainments’ are as follows:
1) Heart Attainment, thus mastery of a guarding control.
The ‘Five-Gate Divisions’ are as follows:
1) Above has the Seven Sensory Apertures.
To complete one’s gateways and strengthen one’s movements are all that foundationally remain. Those who are lazy or careless in these points will practice to no avail.
North, south, east and west. With movements controlling the four directions, one must certainly anticipate where danger will arise. Observing relative strength and weakness, to attack the weak point wins easily, thus following the ‘Live Gate’, moreover avoiding the ‘Dead Road’.
Attempting to distance oneself more closely, if an empty attack comes, receive solidly. When a solid attack comes, dodge emptily. If one is too distant, do not attack or counter. If one is too close then ‘Headwinds’ will occur (competing flow that creates a struggle). Come high, rescue above. Come low, dissolve below.
At all times, cautiously gauge opportunity to be found in signs of action being taken, ‘Advantage/ Disadvantage’ concerns, ‘Advancement/ Withdrawal’, ‘Outside/ Inside’ necessities, ‘Swallow/ Spitting’ and ‘Float/ Sinking’ directions.
Practice makes perfect and familiarity with these principles will come through diligent effort sustained on a daily basis. Once these principles are reflexive the multitude of techniques become clear, as you will know their root derivation.
Long ago, Wah To taught Ng Po that the human body, when exercised regularly, will digest food more easily while at the same time experiencing a general improvement of the circulatory system. Liu Lam also has said that ‘flowing water does not stagnate, the door-hinge will not become worm-eaten’, thus activity keeps one in good health. I personally have found this to be true.
Typically, those people you will meet who practice martial art are high-spirited and physically strong. Through forging one’s form in the practice of ‘Air Clothes’ (Taoist Breath Control), one may avoid illness and prolong life. Therefore, in my opinion, martial art is not only useful for self-defense but also to provide an exercise regimen for the improvement of one’s own physical constitution.
Speaking only from personal experience, these are the true benefits to be gained from the practice of martial art. My wish then is both to share these benefits with those who would care to follow and also to create a bridge by which these unique features of our national [Chinese] culture may be preserved for all time.
Translation by Michael Goodwin