The precepts & tenets of my former Kung Fu System Nam Pai Chuan

Spiritual Inspiration Sunday 14

When I was half my age I did train with the Kung-Fu system Nam Pai Chuan and because I found the teacher Christopher Lai Khee Choong to be the spiritually most authentic of all Gurus I did meet so far, I reblog an article I wrote for the Kung-Fu magazine nearly 3 decades ago – without altering a single word.

Before we trained we had to repeat 18 precepts which a random student did read aloud to us. Don’t waste that wisdom: Read them attentive,
and then take a minute to reflect upon what those principles mean to you.

  • Revere your ancestor
  • Respect your guide
  • Train with your mind
  • Strengthen the will
  • Centre your energy
  • Focus on reality
  • Act with earnestness
  • Covet nothing
  • Subdue the “I”
  • Behave with fortitude
  • Approach with innocence
  • Ever hope
  • Life is death
  • Death is life
  • Teach with passion
  • Teach the deserving
  • Learn always
  • Assume nothing

Now you can read how I understood those tenets,
based on my studies of Traditional Chinese Medicine back then.

Revere your ancestor

Qi (or chi) is the energy of life, the force which is trained and directed in martial arts; the energy which flows throughout our body. Pre-heavenly Qi, the energy we inherit from our ancestors, is stored in the form of Jing. This is the essence of life, the factor which dominates our physical and mental growth, our determination and even our biography to a certain extent. It is stored in the kidneys from where the Yin and Yang of the whole body stems. So it can be seen as a seed of a plant. What we do with this inherited gift is up to us but it is important to make the best out of it. If one is given a certain amount of money and does not value it, one will lose it quickly, in opposition to the person who does see in the gift a chance for growth. So if we revere our ancestors we respect ourselves. This might be the reason why in Feng Shui (the art of applying Qi to space) it is very important to bury the ancestors in a place with good Qi. In the I Ging (the Book of Changes) it is written that as one who understands growth properly has to understand contraction as well, so birth can be seen as a mirror or a prism through which the ancestral Qi flows and then spreads again to build a new life – the better the Qi, the better one’s life.

Respect your guide

There are five different spirits in the body, housed in different organs. One is the Hun, the ethereal soul, which gives a person charisma. In its emotional aspect it has to do with anger and fighting. At rest the blood is stored in the liver; in a fight it is distributed to the organs. Each spirit and organ also belongs to an element which reflects principles of nature. The liver and the Hun for example belong to the Wood element which is responsible for growth; it is upward and outward in direction such as a tree grows. That is why angry people rise up from their seat in order to hit or shout at one another – upward and outward. On a mental level the wood element has to do with career – upward and outward movement. It is very important to balance ones own personal growth as it is balanced in nature. First, a good foundation has to be built to support the structure on top. A tree must have a good stem to support its crown. So you should respect your guide in order to acknowledge the fact that we all received help and have to help, that we are just threads in the fabrics of life. This puts everything into perspective and thus enables us later to judge clearly when it is appropriate to gain respect and when not. Therefore, our career will be balanced and suit our position in life. This does not mean that the humble person will not reach as far; vice versa, an aware person will see more clearly his or her destination and then go even further than people with ungrounded dreams.

Train with your mind

Another spirit is the Yi, the spirit of thought, housed in the spleen. In the case of imbalance, thought circles round and round: the process of worrying. There is a saying; “Where the Yi goes, the Qi goes”. This means where the mind is, the Qi – our energy, therefore our abilities and our whole life – will follow. A basic principle of some kinds of meditation is to let the thoughts go in order to have a clear mind – to be totally in the present and not to think about the past and the future. This is very difficult; yet important because it brings sense into the most boring activities of our life for we will be aware of what we are doing and therefore learn always. So when doing a horse-riding stance or a kick or a punch you’ve done a thousand times before don’t get bored but try to focus on nothing else but on what you are doing at the moment and you will discover how difficult that is and when you are focused your technique will improve because you will be aware of a lot of mistakes you have not seen before.

Strengthen the will

Willpower is a spirit called Zhi which resides in the kidneys, like Jing. If the kidneys are weak, there will be fear. People have to go to the toilet when they are scared, because the kidneys control the bladder: fear descends as water, the element of the kidneys. So if the will is strong, our determination and perseverance will benefit from it and also will the kidneys and therefore our Jing and our courage for the potential for fear will be reduced. In terms of our physical training the willpower will benefit from a grounded stance which draws the Qi down to the kidneys. This shows that certain Nam-Pai-Chuan techniques have a double meaning because they benefit on an exterior level our fighting skills and on an interior level our energy by balancing out bodily functions. This applies especially to the forms which have a very profound meaning far beyond the level of self-defence and contain elements of Qi-Gung, the work on Qi.

Centre your energy

The direction of the earth is toward the centre. The gravity force of the earth pulls all things towards its centre. By centring our energy we will be able to focus better. In opposition to pre-heavenly Qi as in precept 1, post-heavenly Qi is the energy which we get from food, air and all the things which are consumed after birth. Food and drink are obviously big parts of it and in order to transform them properly the stomach and especially the spleen have to be strong, otherwise the food will only be used to a certain extent and not to its full potential. This is obviously another reason to centre the Qi (to the stomach and spleen) in order to be and to become strong.

Focus on reality

Probably the most important of the five spirits housed in the body is the Shen. It is responsible for clarity, excitement and love. The Shen is housed in the blood of the heart. (The organs as seen from a Chinese medical point of view are seen as a collection of functions and therefore not identical to the Western concept of material things, but overlap to a large extent in their functions.) The heart belongs to the fire element. The direction of fire is upward; the Shen has to do with growth, especially in a spiritual sense and can be compared to the light which attracts all life. Like the sun, the Shen can never be deficient but clouded, which might cause depression and a distorted perception of reality. So focusing on reality means to keep the natural direction of growth in mind and never to forget the light even in the sky may (i.e. the mind) is temporarily clouded. To be out of tune with reality means to become mentally disturbed; and to be “en-lightened”. Here is the link to precept number 3 because a clear mind which is not distracted will not be clouded, hence access to the Shen is uninhibited.

Act with earnestness

As mentioned previously, determination and seriousness are qualities of the kidneys and the Jing. The quality of the Jing is the quality always to stand up again when knocked down by life. Determination has also to do with a sense of direction in life. To show direction, the index finger is normally used. The large intestine channel starts at the index finger – a channel is a pathway of Qi which flows from and towards all organs in the body – relating it to the sense of direction of life. The colon belongs to the metal element, as do the lungs. The lungs house the Po, another of the 5 spirits. The Po is the incorporated soul so is responsible for all involuntary movements in the body such as the metabolism, the heartbeat, breathing, etc. It is also responsible for getting things done. This is because it belongs to the metal element and metal cuts through any obstacles just like a sword. A very big obstacle in getting things done is sadness, the pathological state of the lungs when Qi is deficient. Sadness causes a stooped posture which further depletes the lungs, so when someone is determined to fulfil his/her own goals s/he cuts through this obstacle and breaks the vicious circle.

Covet nothing

When Buddha sat under a tree and tried to develop himself through meditation, five women came to tempt him away from the path of true development. These women represented corruption or criminal behaviour, grief, fear, ignorance, and greed. These are the pathological states of the five elements. Corruption is a disharmony of the earth element because it means that one allows another person to set a point of focus; and therefore, one’s own centre point of focus is weakened. Grief is an imbalance of the metal element because the metal contracts and grief also contracts the sad person, who becomes smaller and introverted. As discussed above, deficiency of the water element (kidney and bladder) causes or is caused by fear. Casual factors and caused factors are reversible in Chinese medicine which means that something which could be caused by a deficiency such as grief can also be the cause for this deficiency. Ignorance is a stagnation of wood energy – related to the liver and gall bladder; an ignorant person will not have the patience to explore the truth with care. Greed, finally, is an excess of the fire element: heart and small intestine. Over-excitement in the heart causes a thousand wishes; and the failure of the small intestine in its natural function of separating the pure from the un-pure will impair the person’s decision on what is not. There is too much energy in the heart and upper part of the body (fire rises) and too little in the lower part. This is another case in which centring the energy would definitely help.

Subdue the “I”

As much as the clouds (between the earth and the sun) belong to the earth, so the filters which are between reality and the observer belong to the person them self. These filters are the same which inhibit access to the Shen. They are: emotions, thoughts, beliefs, etc., in other words everything which belongs to the ego or the “I”. In order to challenge the individual to experience these filters and get rid of them, there are a lot of ‘unpleasant’ exercises such as conditioning or standing in a low horse-riding stance for a long time. These exercises are done much more in the east where people tend to have greater understanding of their value. The idea of conditioning, for example, is not only to get hard skin but to let unpleasant sensations, known as ‘pain’ pass through the “I” in order not to let them be felt as pain, and therefore to get rid of judgements which inhibit us to see reality for what it is. We can see for example how distorted our view becomes when we are in a hurry. Everything which gets in our way is extremely annoying and every minute waiting time might not even be noticed on other occasions. There was once a novice monk meditating in a monastery high up in the snow-covered mountains. The door to the meditation hall was always wide open so that it became so cold that ice would freeze on the noses of the monks. The novice monk told his master that this would be unbearable for him – and to his surprise the master agreed. So he asked him why they would not close the doors and heat up the meditation hall whereupon the master replied: “Let the cold inside you where it kills the student!” Every assumption is a reduction of the reality to a model of life and therefore a distortion of our perception of our environment. This inhibits one to focus on reality.

Behave with fortitude

Fortitude is defined as firm and lasting courage in putting up with trouble without complaining. How can this be done? By subduing the ego and strengthening the willpower!

Approach with innocence

The word “innocence” does not mean naivety in this context, but instead, open mindedness which helps the student to focus on reality. Innocence also means being without guilt – so an innocent approach is one without bad intentions which can spoil good training. Innocence also carries the quality of a subdued ego without wishful perception and thoughts so that the student is able to respect the guide.

Ever hope

This has to do with a focus on reality without judgement. If training at one stage seems not to progress any further; then it is time to train the mind by not judging ones own development. In training we are mostly asked to be Yang by acting and training hard but here we have to be Yin in be patient and preserving.

This reminds me of the story of the two frogs who fell into a pot of milk which was too high for them to jump out, so one of the two frogs gave up and drowned. The other one had hope and continued to swim in the milk. The next morning it found itself sitting in a pot of butter.

Life is death

The Yin and Yang symbol should not be seen as a static balance, but a constantly changing balance, as everything changes all the time. When it is seen as a clock, four different stages emerge: 1) Yang within Yang: total Yang; midday, summer, brightness, life…2) Yin within Yin: total Yin; night, winter, dark, cold, death…3) Yang within Yin: Yin turns into Yang; birth, spring, morning…4) Yin within Yang; Yang turns into Yin; ageing, autumn, evening… This shows that growth means decline like a flower which blossoms and necessarily afterwards dies. The same applies for training, which is growth and development and therefore a preparation for death. It is important not to fear death because fear will not only become irrelevant at the time of dying but will inhibit our progress throughout life – for one who fears death is subconsciously scared to develop because growth means decline and life is death. I am convinced that nearly all people can improve their development immensely and reach far beyond their present existence if they accept death and dying as a necessity of life. It is important recognise the principles within Yin and Yang, just like the principles of the five elements. It is better to understand them properly than learning lists of attributes because if you know the principle you are in a better position to work out everything else. For example, what ascends – Yin or Yang? Yang because it means growth and action and every plant grows upwards to understand these principles deeply, I strongly recommend the I Ging, the book of changes; the most accurate translation seen so far is the one by Richard Willhelm.

Death is life

Apart from the continuous changes mentioned, there is the aspect of death as a transformation of our existence. The Po is the corporeal soul and the Hun the ethereal soul. After death, the Po goes into the earth and stays there for three generations. The Hun leaves the body after death which can be seen when an excessive amount Eaglewood incense is burnt in the room where someone is dying. This shows that our perception of our body being us is incomplete because the 5 spirits continue to act after death. A seed grows into a tree, the tree blossoms, the leaves die fall to earth and become soil, out of which the seeds which fell from the tree grow and become another tree. So in nature everything cycles. So it is quite likely that human beings recycle. It might be either that the soul or spirits as a whole continues to live until it is reincarnated or that parts fuse together with parts of others and manifests a new mixture such as rain drops which fall individually to earth, mingle with others to build a river and flow into the sea or into plants from where they evaporate again to fall down as rain drops. If a body is seen as a candle and its spirit as the flame, the question is whether the flame which is passed onto other candles is the same or a different flame. This is a matter of belief and individual experience; it is up to everyone individually to make up their own mind about reincarnation.

Teach the deserving

Initially this might mean “teach only the deserving”, because otherwise the spirituality could get lost and what is left over would only be a mechanical procedure without its contents. Nam-Pai-Chuan is not only a good system to gain technical skills but also highly spiritual because it is well balanced between form and content, i.e. physical work and mental work. Another aspect of this precept is also to teach all the deserving whether you like them or not. This is applicable to all grades at any time. This means not to get excessively involved emotionally in the process of the teaching; hence another step in subduing the “I”.

Teach with passion

Although the I should be subdued, there should be one’s passion (coming from the Shen – fire), mind (coming from the Yi, earth), and Willpower (Zhi – water). Passion is obviously important to make the lesson exciting for the students but it is as beneficial for the teacher because the water and the fire and the element have a very strong link. Water controls fire, as everyone knows. These two different forces have opposite directions and if one element is predominant and imbalance follows. Excessive fire causes inappropriate laughter, over-excitement, giving all the emotions away and thereby draining oneself. Excessive water means that one is determined without compassion, a career-type who does not care about others. Dictators are an extreme example of this case.

Learn always

To get the Qi flowing, which is very important for the health, an intake has to be equivalent to an output. The outlet is the teaching and the intake, to learn. We are mostly too comfortable and narrow-minded to learn always, but every situation can teach us, even if it seems to be boring. In fact a situation only starts to get boring when we can’t learn from it any more. If we have totally explored a situation that we are in, it is time to move onto another level and observe our reality from a new point of view. If you train, for example, one possibility is to observe very carefully its effect on the body, mind and emotions. This is training with the mind and can be done in any situation and everywhere. A higher level of sensitivity will then open new doors to different realities. It is also possible to think about the principles which determine the moment. It is very useful to apply acknowledged principles to other circumstances. This is how Albert Einstein worked out the theory of relativity, by simply finding the principles which underlie movement and mass, when he experienced it by sitting in a tram. Unfortunately he could not accept that particles could be found randomised in fields because his beliefs suggested that God organised everything. This was an inhibition to his step forward. This leads us to the tenet…

Assume nothing

Every assumption is a reduction of the reality to a model of life and therefore a distortion of our perception of our environment. This inhibits one’s ability and willingness to focus on reality. So assume nothing, and don’t believe this article as well.

Sifu Lai Khee Choong

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