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Shaolin's Greatest Secret

No matter what your favorite form of martial arts may be - Shaolin Northern Style, or Southern Style, Pa Kua Zhang, Hsing-I Ch'uan, Tai Chi Ch'uan or whatever - the secret resides within the style. Yes, there is a great secret learned within the training. It is this secret that keeps a martial artist coming back for more. The training is arduous and requires one's undivided attention and effort. But what is it that those special few see that keeps a student coming back class after class to face yet another grueling test of fortitude? What is that drives a martial artist to follow the way of Shaolin?

grandmaster It is the realization of the true meaning of the Wu Hsing. This is the secret, and once learned you will never stray from the path all of your life, until life is no more.

For more messages from Grandmaster, see the Archives.
But what is the meaning of Wu Hsing? The Chinese language is not an easy one to translate. I have been, and still am, an avid student of the language for near twenty years now and feel I have not even scratched the surface of this ancient and mysterious language. So what I say comes from other writings on the subject interjected with my own interpretations.

The first Chinese character is not difficult to understand, Wu simply means the number five (5). It is the second character "Hsing" which has many interpretations.

The character "Hsing" is what we call a radical in Chinese. A Chinese character consists of writing units. One unit is called "Radical" or root. The radical indicates the general meaning of the total character. The second part of the character helps to give a clearer picture of total meaning of the character as a whole idea. Hsing denotes motility, it has a meaning of doing something, to travel, to walk. It also takes on other meanings such as, as process, ones conduct, behavior, path or way. Many would agree that common translation would be fair to call it a course or way.

Thus Wu Hsing can be interpreted as "The Five Ways," or "The Five Courses," "The Five Forces," or the "The Five Agents." It is best known as" the Five Elements." Keep in mind these are but variations of someone's interpretations. The original meaning of the character can only be truly interpreted by the one who originally wrote it, and he is dead. However, we will go along with most of the common translations and say the Wu Hsing can be defined as a movement between a Destruction cycle and a Production cycle of forces that are never ending.

Most of us who study are familiar with these five properties namely, Water, Fire, Metal, Wood, Earth. It is the constant interchange of the five elements that causes the rising and falling of life itself. But it is a complex process to understand, and it can take years for a students to fully understanding even the fundamental workings of these five forces. Once a student does realize the impact of these forces on his or her life, few would turn away from this invaluable knowledge. This is what draws a student back to continue the learning and transition process.

More than fighting

Shaolin's greatest secrets are far and above the mundane defensive aspects. At the highest stages of development true masters of the arts rarely find great pleasure in learning more fighting techniques. They revel in finding themselves and holding some form of control over there destiny.

One level of training ends only at the beginning of the next level. There seems to be no end for those deeply involved. Everything becomes Kung Fu.
The father of Japanese Aikido, Professor Morihei Uyeshiba, was an avid practitioner of the martial arts, but once he moved beyond the mere defensive attributes of his art, his direction changed from defense to harmony with nature. In his later years he went from a world class martial artist to a saint. This change was the result of his coming to understand the force of nature and harmony with God (Tao).

The same could be said of the famous Kenpo fighter James M. Mitose, who went from an unbeatable fighter to a saint in his later years. Fighting became the least important in his life and love became a more predominant part of his nature.

The arts have so much to offer to those who truly seek the final truth. One level of training ends only at the beginning of the next level. There seems to be no end for those deeply involved. Everything becomes Kung Fu. But you must experience this to know this. By merely reading but not walking the path, you become a philosopher, and philosophers only talk of what other people do. They themselves can stagnate.

Many fail to study the arts because they have been influenced by what they see on television or the movies. This is the lowest end of the arts - the fighting, dreams of being invincible, dreams of being the most skilled martial artist that ever lived.

These are pipe dreams, for in reality, such endeavors are useless, and futile. There comes a point where each of us will reach our peek then recede again, finally to pass away completely from existence as we know it.

True Development

Those who know Shaolin's deepest secrets practice for totally different reasons. We find in Tai Chi Ch'uan a beauty and conformity to nature. Harmonizing with this form brings with it a taste of peace and flow of that conformity. The same can be said of when we practice our Pa Kua Zhang. It has a beauty of its own, a conformity with the circle, which represents a continuum, a cycle of the never-ending forces of heaven. The art of Hsing-I Ch'uan, brings out yet another approach to movement that differs totally from Tai Chi Ch'uan or Pa Kau Zhang. With the study of each art we come to understand the total picture, for hidden within the movements are principles to live by. The arts are but physical representations of those principles put into action.

There is nothing that is not affected by the interplay of the five elements, and whether we practice the internal or external is inconsequential.
Again if the student practices these arts on a superficial level, the secrets will remain secrets, undiscovered. And so the art will remain just a fighting system and nothing more. But to those who look beyond the obvious, a new world opens. A world where the fight turns inward toward our greatest opponent, ourselves.

From our continuous study we come to know that internal and external arts are but one and the same. Each teaching embodies different aspects of the same thing, Yin/Yang. External Shaolin Ch'uan is nothing but physical chi kung.

It appears very obvious what the movements represent as the defensive nature of this art is hard to miss or misinterpret. But those who do know see these energies of the physical body pointing to the outer conformity we must also master to reach the total scope of our training. There is nothing that is not affected by the interplay of the five elements, and whether we practice the internal or external is inconsequential. By working with these energies we have a total encounter with our physical bodies, our mind and all its power and finally the spirit itself.

I have read there is a style of kung fu that is called "Shen da" or spirit boxing. Here, a student is trained under the guidance of a spirit. While in a spiritual trace they perform various forms much like the traditional forms you see today. The only difference is that here you see there is little emphasis on fighting, but rather on contact with the spirit self.

Training it not easy. There is a Chinese saying which states what it takes to be master the arts: "dan, li, gong, yi " which translates as "guts, strength, skill and art." True training, however, referred to as "yi nian," has nothing to do with the physical body. Yi nian refers to development of the mind. Only in your mind can change occur. The body, for the most part, is out of your control and will eventually degenerate. But the mind does not die. Its essence is energy and energy moves between lifetimes.

By our constant looking at the interplay of the five properties (Wu Hsing) and working with these forces, we are able to find some order in our life, and with order we find calmness, peace and control over our fears. The forms become like rituals for a martial artist, the student becomes one with form. I too have a saying: "First, the form becomes evident, then the form disappears, then the student becomes evident, then the student disappears."

Constant Study

The study of these fascinating arts sounds so alluring, who could resist? Yet, just about everybody drops out within the first year. The reason is simply they only saw the superficial. Then there are those who go further, five years, and others further yet. Some can study many years and never see the truth staring them in the face. In the long run, they, too, will drop out of the training. Few last a life time. To last that long requires one to see the truth of what they do. If you do see the truth, even a life time is not enough for you to complete your training.

True training is walking the path and following the way without reserve. Those that know, realize that without continuing effort it is easy to slip back to the old self. We go back to our saying, "dan, li, gong, yi" ("guts, strength, skill and art). You need the guts to carry on no matter how people view your actions and decisions as strange. If you put anything in your path, you will surly trip up. Strength not only refers physical demands of the art but rather the strength not to concede your values. The skill refers not only to the ability to perform the forms and techniques of our art but also the skill to manipulate the forces of nature to your advantage. And finally the art, which is the secret revealed, for if you posses all these attributes gut, strength, skill, the true art is revealed to you.

And so each day we must continue our study. And as we do, a little more will be reveled . The secret does not come easily. If it did we would all be masters of the self, we would all be able to understand the secret and all our lives would change for the better.

This does not happen for the simple reason that few study earnestly. Few realize learning itself is exciting, for with each new thing learned yet another door opens for you. Each successive door prepares you for the unknown which becomes more known each passing day: A chance to awaken yourself from the lifeless existence of living in a dream. Our traditional forms and styles becomes like a dance or expression of our feelings and beliefs. Like the Shen Da ( spirit boxing) we spoke of earlier, we unite with the cosmos, blending into the Tao.

It is here we express our understanding of the power of the five forces. In doing so we display our control of those forces by harnessing its power to our benefit. This is the Shaolin's greatest secret, ready to be revealed to anyone who seeks it.

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