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Magic Tattoos.

Magic Tattoos

Magic tattoos are the subject of great interest from foreigners discovering Thailand and South East Asia.  They form a strong tradition in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia and, I believe, Laos.  They are the work of monks, shamans, masters or other spiritual teachers.  Some are done with ‘normal’ tattoo ink, some with oil – in which case they are invisible after healing.  In rare cases a mixture of ink and oil are used resulting in what appears to be a half finished tattoo!

Our student MarKus recently received a Sak Yant (magical tattoo) in Chiang Mai.  Original we were going as a group and several of the students were intending to get magical tattoos.  Sadly due to me getting sick and some of the usual indecisiveness, just a small group went and only MarKus got the tattoo.  It was hand done by a monk in a temple.  The monk or master chants prayers during the process and imparts spirit and intent which give rise to the magical power of the tattoo.  

You can read about MarKus’s Sak Yant here:

He booked through www.sakyantchiangmai.com

I had one done many years ago on my birthday in a temple in Pai, although not with the full ritual and mine is a specialised tattoo – I knew exactly what I wanted and Pu, my wife was in agreement.  Mine depicts the deity Prah Rahu swallowing the moon.  Prah Rahu bestows protection, particularly against ‘knives in the back’ both literally and metaphorically.  He protects against any organised groups, be it the mafia or the police and against ambitious employees or subordinates looking to replace their boss.  He grants prosperity and success.  There is a lot more than this but these are strong points.  The positioning of the tattoo at the top of my back signifies ‘watching my back’.  

For anyone coming to Thailand who wants a Sak Yant, we can point you in the right direction.

Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai and Pambok Bamboo Bridge.

Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai and Pambok Bamboo Bridge.

This arose as an ‘improvised’ excursion – avoiding the pandemic travel restrictions. 

Day 1.

Leave the Retreat at 6.00am.

Chi Kung on the bamboo bridge at Pam Bok village, Pai district.

The bridge crosses the rice paddies which always look their best in August / September when the rice is a beautiful green colour.  

Stops for coffee and sticky rice with coconut cooked in a piece of bamboo!


Lunch in Chiang Dao.

Visit to Chiang Dao Cave Temple.

Evening out in Chiang Mai.

Day 2.

Shopping trip.

Visit to Wat Doi Suthep – Northern Thailand’s most famous / significant temple positioned on a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai city and visible from most parts of the city.

Then back to Pai with another stop for sticky rice!  🙂

Mae Hong Son and Pa Daeng Cave.

Mae Hong Son and Pa Daeng Cave.

This is a great little road trip and works well in June, July, September, October or November.  In June – July the local people will be planting rice.  In September – November there are great views of the rice fields.  Towards the end of this period, the farmers can be seen harvesting their rice.

Day 1:

Leave the Retreat at 6.00am.

Chi Kung and Shuang Yang at Doi Kiew Lom viewpoint.

A stop at the Lahu tribal market in the mountains.

Coffee looking over the rice fields.

A walk to the fish cave in a national park.

Arrive in Mae Hong Son city for breakfast/ lunch.

Walk around the lake in the city centre. Visit the beautiful temples next to the lake.

Check in hotel.

Optional: trip to the Zoo / explore Mae Hong Son City.

Trip to Wat Prathat Doi Kong Mu at sunset. This is Mae Hong Son province’s most revered temple. It sits on a mountain overlooking the city and has amazing views – especially at sunset.

Dinner at a restaurant.

Day 2:

Chi Kung and Shuang Yang practise in the park on the lake shores.


Check out of hotel.

Coffee above the rice fields.

Explore Pa Daeng Cave.
This is a really unique opportunity of a sort which few people experience! The cave is long – it extends about 550m into a mountainside. It has great stalactites and stalagmites and a stream running through it. The most amazing thing about it, though, is that hardly anyone ever goes there! There are absolutely no signs of human presence in the cave – not a single piece of litter or graffiti. It feels very much like being the first humans to arrive! To get to the cave requires a climb up a long flight of steps up the mountainside through jungle. There is a lot of wading through streams and a bit of scrambling over rocks. Well worth it, though, for a once in a lifetime experience like this!

Back to the Retreat early evening. 🙂

Master iain Armstrong Lethal
Martial Arts Master Iain Armstrong releasing springy internal power into a lethal throat crushing technique.

Fitness is for Life

If your exercise program is designed to burn you out and consign you to the scrap heap of humanity, best you take a long, hard look at it!

One of the things that really sold me on Chinese Kung Fu was the discovery that a bunch of middle aged, very ‘normal’ looking Chinese guys could run rings around me when it came to fighting.  I first travelled to Singapore in 1987.  Training took place on the flat rooftop of Nam Yang’s clubhouse.  The nights were hot and very humid: sticky, clingy weather with a strong scent of Chinese joss sticks.  The teachers were, contrary to my expectations, rather ordinary looking people, who would not have looked at all out of place picking up children from school – but when they moved it was like watching somethin out of a Kung Fu movie.  This was in total contrast to what I was used to and completely blew me away!

Back in cold, grey London, every young guy aspired to be the fittest and the toughest.  We worked out and we strutted around looking hard.  But we knew that our days were numbered and that we were destined to end up like all the ‘old guys’ who sat around moaning about ‘the youth of today’ and who we felt so superior to.  We just accepted that, like every sports star, we would get to our thirties and then burn out.  That a day would come when we would say ’I am too old for all of this’ and retire from sport in favour of more suitable exercise such as throwing darts and lifting pint glasses.  Because this was what everyone did!

I had no idea what it was these old guys did that was different.  But I was sharp enough to know that they were on to something here and that I wanted a piece of it.  If it was possible to avoid the downward spiral that we called ‘normality’, to extend my days of being young and fit, I wanted to know everything about it!  So I became a student of Grand Master Tan, followed him around, observed his lifestyle and the culture in which he lived and bombarded him with a constant stream of questions.  I wasn’t the fastest learner – it took a while for things to sink in – but gradually the reality dawned on me.

The older generation of Chinese people measured their fitness not in terms of how fast they were, how strong they were or how long they could run for but in terms of being fit to live their lives happily and healthily.  And they laughed at us crazy westerners!  We pushed ourselves to the limit and beyond.  We obsessed with building muscles but completely ignored our internal organs even though it is the internal organs which provide our muscles with food and oxygen, which remove their waste products and which also do just about everything else which keeps us healthy.  We overworked our organs desperately.  So we would come to a point when they just couldn’t cope any more.  They gave up.  And that would be the time, perhaps somewhere in our mid-thirties, when we announced that we were retiring from sport!  In other words our whole approach to exercise was designed to burn out our internal organs so that we had to give up before we were even half way through our lives.  Crazy westerners!

Try a little experiment with me.  Picture in your mind a Kung Fu Master.  Everyone will conjure up a different image but let me ask you – was it an old guy / girl?  I have asked this question to hundreds of people – and all of them have said yes.  This is what makes Kung Fu so fundamentally different.  The whole ethos, the whole image of Kung Fu is one of never giving up.  Of continuing right into old age so as to become that phenomenal old person who defies the norm and inspires all of those young people who can’t quite keep up.

Isn’t this how it should be?  Shouldn’t our exercise keep us fit into old age?  Keep us healthy, agile and mentally sharp?  I found myself agreeing with those old Chinese – our western concept of exercise is just crazy!  So I have spent my life learning how to take care of my body Chinese style: opening meridians, charging energy centres, cultivating breath, nourishing internal organs, sinking my chi and, above all, living a relaxed, mindful existence.  I am not particularly beautiful and don’t look like a body builder but my Kung Fu is still way better than most people of half my age and I intend to keep it that way.  My son is 7 years old and in the present highly uncertain world my dream is that I will still be sharp enough to guide him and look after him in thirty years time.  Thanks to the Kung Fu that  those old Chinese guys taught me I think that I am in with a good chance!

Grand Master Tan Soh Tin

Grand Master Tan Soh Tin with Master Iain Armstrong in England whilst taking a break from Kung Fu training in 1995.

Nam Yang Volunteers with Local Village

Our qigong instructor trainees share their kung fu spirit and strength with a local village in need.

There was a big storm that flooded nearby Pambok village and took out their water supply.  The team at Nam Yang immediately sprang to action to help.

Nam Yang students brought in water for the community, and assisted in organizing other volunteer groups who came out to support Pambok village.  Nam Yang students had the great idea to create an assembly line making use of all of the volunteers to carry the water from the trucks into the village.

Very many thanks to the Nam Yang team!

200 Hour Teacher Training Students

We would like to introduce you to our incredible 200 hour teacher training trainees. 

At home, Luke’s current job entails teaching in corporate education. He came to Nam Yang, keen to jump into an opportunity to immerse himself into the Kung Fu Spirit as well to deepen his own practice in teaching. Luke is looking forward to incorporating more Chi Kung, Shuang Yang, and Sum Chien into his wellness routines at home, as well to bring the stories and experiences of Nam Yang to broaden the perspectives to his students on what is possible.

Florian and his wife are working on opening a clinic oriented towards Chinese Alternative medicine. Florian is looking forward to expanding his knowledge of Qigong and other aspects of Kung fu, to take to his project at home.

Check back soon as we continue to profile our 200 hour teacher trainees!

The Origin of Shaolin Tiger-Crane Kung Fu

A story by Jenifer Joy based on the lesson by Master Iain Armstrong

Once upon a time…..there was a prince in southern India named. He was kept inside the royal kingdom through the beginning years of his life until one day he wandered outside of the protective walls of the palace. For the first time, he discovered the civilization that surrounded him. The young prince was saddened by what he saw. Moved by this awakening experience, he decided to renounce his royal heritage and devote himself to be a monk, walking the long and dusty roads. As a devout Buddhist he traveled widely to spread the teachings of Buddhism. He then took the name Bodhidharma – which the Chinese usually shorten to Tat Moh.

Bodhidharma traveled to China where the Buddhist teachings were eagerly received by the common people. In the year 520 A.D. after many moons passed and many steps of traveling through India and China, Bodhidharma was appointed Abbot of the newly built monastery called ‘Shaolin’ meaning “little forest”. Here at the Shaolin temple he found the monks to be very weak and unable to withstand the Buddhist lifestyle which included long fasts from eating, sitting meditation and frugal living.

Bodhidharma knew it was important to find a way to support the Buddhist monks and so he retired to a cave to meditate upon the problem and find a solution. After nine years he emerged with a devised set of exercises for the monks intended to regulate and strengthen the monks chi, called Chi Kung. (*As a side note chi equals energy or life force or the vitality within.) Bodhidharma’s Chi Kung exercises were so successful that they are still practiced to this day and form the basis of the Shaolin martial arts. 

Shaolin Temple in Southern China

The Shaolin temple was in the Fukien province of China. At the time, China was a dangerous place as bandits and villains attacked the temples and the monks who traveled teaching the ways of Buddhism. Buddhist monks are very gentle and good-natured. But to protect themselves, the monks developed a system of fighting based on Bodhidharma’s exercises. The fighting system was developed only to defend themselves against harm. It was named ‘Lohon Kung Fu’ – a Lohon being an enlightened monk – and included low stances and a strong body posture. 

Over the years the Shaolin monks practiced diligently and strived to improve their art. One day a man came to the gates of the temple. This man was a Chinese Emperor who had also decided to relinquished his royal position to adopt the ways of Buddhism. He settled at the Shaolin temple and deeply studied martial arts, developing Tai Chor which is sometimes known as “ The Grand Emperor’s Style” but most popularly known as “Tiger Style”. 

Tai Chor (or Tiger) uses a strong and mobile stance (in kung fu we call that a “walking stance”), along with strong twisting punches which is the “hallmark” of Shaolin Kung Fu. The Tai Chor style develops great power and thus defeated the Lohon style. 


“No style is unbeatable and every move has a counter” 









Next came Monkey style.. Monkey is fast and deceptive, this style closes in on an opponent, then striking and retreating in one rapid sequence. Powerful Tiger was unable to hit the tricky and constantly moving Monkey opponent. If monkey missed a strike, he still moved away from the opponent so as to not allow Tiger a chance to counter. Monkey strikes are more accurate than powerful and are delivered with the fingers or an open palm. Monkey crouches and attacks the lower body (favoring the groin). Grabbing is also a favorite technique, known as the “monkey plucks the cherries!”. Monkey style is great for short people because it consists of lots of crouching and rolling. This style of kung fu is most entertaining to watch! 

What is one of the last Kung Fu styles the Chinese let go to Westerners? But of course it would be the famous White Crane, the last and most technically advanced style developed in the Fukien Shaolin temple. 

Crane style is regarded with great respect and was shrouded in secrecy by it’s Masters for a longtime. What is the devastating secret of the white crane? The crane sticks! As soon as the crane is attacked, it establishes touch contact. When the opponents attacks, the crane deflects. When the opponents withdraws, the crane follows, never releasing touch until it finds an opportunity to strike with no mercy. Crane style is the pinnacle of Shaolin martial arts. 

There was a time in China where the monks fled from the temples that were being invaded and destroyed. Only five masters escaped the Shaolin temple. The most famous is Hung Ee Kan, Master of Tiger style and renowned for his strength of stance and the power of his punch. He fought many challenges and was never beaten. 

After the burning of the temple, Hung Ee Kan sought refuge with a Chinese opera troop. They traveled around China in a red painted barge performing their operas. They were known as the Red Barge and Hung Ee Kan found them to be an excellent cover. He posed as a member of the Opera and every time they stopped in a new town he would gather together those whom were opposed the destructive Manchurian’s who were rampaging around China. He formed new branches of secret societies and taught them the secrets of Kung Fu so they could win against the Manchus. Hung Ee Kan traveled to many places in China and his teachings became widespread. Kung Fu thusly continued to be practiced and taught by increasingly more people. 


One day while wandering around a village, Hung Ee Kan came upon an old man teaching Kung Fu to his daughter. Hung Ee Kan did not recognize the style they were practicing which used soft and subtle movements. Fascinated, he sat in a tree to watch, not wishing to disturb the training session. However, the old man noticed Hung Ee Kan and beckoned him to climb down from the tree and join in. The old man set up a sparing session between Hung Ee Kan and his daughter. Hung was amazed that his ferocious punches and blocks (which had defeated all other challenges) was unable to overcome the seemingly fragile looking girl. Her style was very soft, evading and deflecting his punches rather than stopping them. This counter technique made the strength of his punches useless. She countered his attacks by waiting until there was a gap in his defense and then she would attack with a fast accurate strike to a sensitive point. The girl was named Tee Eng Choon and the style she practiced was, of course, White Crane style. Hung Ee Kan was entranced by this style, where hard force was of no meaning. He stayed with the Tee family to learn more and to train with them. Overtime, he fell in love with Tee Eng Choon. 

Hung Ee Kan and Tee Eng Choon married and together produced a style which combined the best of what each had to offer; the power of the Tiger and the soft subtle technique of the Crane. This is how Tiger-Crane Kung Fu was formed. 

The Tee family kept this style in their family and passed it down over many generations. The district of the Fukien province where the Tee family lived is now Eng Choon.

Down the Tee family line, there was a man called Tee Ley who brought the Tiger-Crane style to popularity in China. He was a master of the Iron Palm technique which could break thru bamboo, cement blocks and more with a simple accurate strike. Although he only used his right hand, whatever he gripped would then turn to dust. 







It was the custom in China for Kung Fu masters to challenge each other to fights. These fights were held on raised platforms called Lei Tais. There were no rules, just an all out brawl. Tee Ley was famous for his fighting at the Lei Tais for he usually killed his opponent. Wherever a Lei Tais was held, Tee Ley would travel there. Eventually he defeated all his challengers and no-one remained who dared to confront him. He became the champion of Southern China! 

As Tee Ley got older, he retired as a shoemaker. Many years after his retirement, a champion from the North of China challenged him to a fight. The champion wanted to find out which was better, the Northern way of fighting (using high kicks and long range hand techniques) or the Southern way of fighting (with a strong stance and close range hand techniques that emphasized blocking). Tee Ley refused the challenged as he was retired and happy as a shoe maker. Plus, he had stopped his rigorous daily training. The Northern champion would not relent and persisted in challenging Tee Ley to a Lei Tai. Eventually, Tee Ley knew he had to accept the challenge and thus traveled to the north. 

Tee Ley was a smart forward thinking man, he knew if he beat the Northern Champion the Northern Chinese would want revenge. And so he made careful preparations for a quick escape by arranging a boat to be waiting at the dock, ready to take him back south after the fight. 

Tee Ley sought out his opponent and took up the challenge on a Lei Tai. The two champions fought with Tee Ley using his Tiger-Crane style and deadly Iron Fist. The Northern champion was no match for him and soon lay dead at his feet. Tee Ley escaped quickly through the commotion and was lucky to make it back to the docks where he sailed back on his escape boat to the south of China for a hero’s welcome. News of what happened traveled through China and Tee Ley became very famous. This is how Tiger-Crane style became well known amongst the people of China. 

Master Ang Lian Huat, founder of Nam Yang, began training Tiger-Crane style when he was 8 years old. His Master was Master Tee Hong Yew, member of the Tee family, known as “the secretive old man” due to his habit of coming and going without a word. Master Ang learned other styles of Kung Fu as well. His second master was Tan Kew Leong, a Chinese medicine peddler.   Medicine peddlers were often very accomplished in martial arts. They were often challenged to fight in the villages and towns they visited and because of this, their Kung Fu had to be good. Tan Kew Leong specialized in Tiger style and was also a Master of the Shaolin weapons system. Master Ang’s 3rd Master was Miao Sian Meng, a monk in the Shaolin temple and taught him the Sun/Frost White Crane Kung Fu, a soft art with external Chinese medicine. 

You may wonder how Master Ang managed to study with so many different Masters! Well, Ang’s family was very wealthy and so they were able to fund Ang’s all consuming interest in Kung Fu with the best teachers available   Master Ang, like many Kung Fu Masters, fought in the nationalist army during the Chinese civil war. When the Communists defeated the Nationalists they executed many Kung Fu Masters since they had backed the Nationalist.  So many of them fled China. Master Ang migrated to Singapore to join his uncle in the family business. However Ang quarreled so much with his uncle that he was excluded from the business. 

He took a job as a bouncer at a gambling den. Singapore was a rough and dangerous place at the time (much different than today!) Martial artists were favored as doormen and were often greatly feared. Ang was greatly respected throughout the Singapore martial arts community. He was known to be strong willed, quick tempered and an exceptionally good fighter. He disliked men who set themselves up as a Kung Fu Master without really knowing the art. He would challenge anyone he suspected as an imposter. 

Martial Arts Instructor Lefa

Sum Chien Demonstration

Master Ang had a great understanding of Kung Fu, he was a master of the “touch” system, stressing the use of a straight counter for a side attack, and a side counter for a straight attack. “Dash against wave, and wave against dash”. For every move there is a counter and for every counter, there is another counter. He emphasized the importance of concentration and awareness due to a lesson he learned personally at a young age when his opponent spat in his face and then hit him while he was distracted. Despite knowing so many styles and several hundred patterns, Master And stressed that this was not as important as the depth of one’s knowledge and the strength of one’s basics. The key to success is the mastery of the Sum Chien form. 

It was in the year 1954 that Master Ang Lian Huat formed the Nam Yang Pugilistic Association. Nam Yang means ‘south seas’ meaning South East Asia, Pugilism is an English word meaning ‘fist fighting’ or ‘martial art’. So Nam Yang Pugilistic Association basically means “South East Asia Martial Arts Association”. 

Master Ang presided over Nam Yang for the rest of his life, training many students in the martial art forms of Tiger-Crane Kung Fu, Shaolin Weapons systems, Hard and Soft Chi Kung, Lion and Dragon Dancing and the Shuang Yang Pei Ho, also known as the Sun/Frost White Crane soft internal art. He was still keen to teach even in the last few weeks of his life, trying to impart as much of his vast knowledge as he could. He died in 1984 at the young age of 60 after suffering from diabetes. Master Ang’s most senior disciple was Master Tan Soh Tin who took over the running of Nam Yang, and who trained my master, Master Iain Armstrong.

Master Tan Soh Tin


Master Iain

Master Iain is from England and began his fighting style as a boxer. He had not done any martial arts training until he was 14 years old. Because no-one had yet to beat him in a fight, he thought he did not need any training. In his 14th year he was indeed beaten in a fight by a boxer which resulted in his nose being broken so badly that the doctors could not stop the bleeding for a whole week! Even today his nose is bent to one side. He then figured he better learn how to be a better boxer! When he started at the University College London, he had the chance to do Kung Fu for the first time. He began training in both Kung Fu and Tae Kwon Do at the same time. Kung Fu captured his interest most and in 1981 began his formal studies in Shaolin Tiger Crane Kung Fu. Now, 38 years later he is recognized as a Master and continues to spread the teachings of Tiger Crane Kung Fu. 

Master Iain’s favorite routines are the tiger fork (weapon), the beautiful Shuang Yang and the Comet Rushing to the Moon (a freehand routine). One of Master Iain’s most proud moment was shaking the hand of the Queen of England. Master Iain formed the Nam Yang Kung Fu Retreat in Pai, Thailand, a small town in Mae Hong Son, northwest of Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

View from the rooms down to the training area

My Story

My first grading!

I came to Nam Yang in August of 2018 not having any background in any style of martial arts. I came here because I wanted to experience the life of Kung Fu and train with a true Master. I had experienced some difficult changes in my life at the age of 36 and wanted to go somewhere where I didn’t have to make choices, and I could trust in the schedule of a retreat while gaining new and important skills that would benefit my mind and body, giving me a much needed respite for a period of time. I trained for 26 days, 8 hours a day. During that time I learned 42 of the 66 moves of the Shuan Yang. I also learned the first Sum Chien freehand routine and the staff weapon routine. I made many friends, enjoyed the town of Pai, and explored waterfalls and hotsprings on my scooter with the gang. 

I returned 9 months later to complete my final 2 weeks of training. Upon my return I met new friends and reunited with other friends whom stayed or returned to the retreat. I finished learning all 66 moves of the Shuan Yang, learned the second Sum Chien (Tet Bey), and learned pieces of the Tan Tow (sword) routine. I enjoyed returning to sweating, stretching, conditioning and gaining muscle, strength and agility. Fun Day Sunday is always a hit with the wonderful Kao Soi breakfast and weapon training. 

This retreat is a gift to those who wish to train in Kung Fu, building physical and internal strength with a true Master and a well trained, caring team of instructors alongside other passionate and dedicated students. The retreat is beautiful, the food nutritious, and the opportunity is yours. 








“As long as you look for a Buddha somewhere else, you’ll never see that your own mind is the Buddha” -Tat Moh / Bodhidharma







Full moon rising over the bamboos at the Kung Fu Retreat.
Full moon rising over the bamboos at the Kung Fu Retreat.

Kung Fu, the Tao and Embodied Philosophy

Full moon rising over the bamboos at the Kung Fu Retreat.

The three principal philosophies that have shaped Chinese Kung Fu are Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Taoism is the accumulated wisdom of 4,000 years of Chinese civilisation.  Unlike many philosophies, it is not at all idealistic. Quite the reverse it is the study of reality.  Rather than dictating how things should be, it observes and understands how they are. Taoism advocates first observing the flow of life and then harmonising with it so as to take advantage for the current, not swim against it.

Kung fu is the physical embodiment of the Tao. 

The opening of the classic Taoist text the Tao Te Ching can be translated as:

‘The more you use it, the more it produces;

The more you talk of it the less you understand.’


Kung fu is not something which should be thought about.  It is something which should be done intuitively, without thinking.

When chi rises to the head, the head becomes full of thoughts.  Head thoughts are disjointed thoughts and result in disjointed movement.  When chi sinks to the Tan Tien, gut thinking takes over. Gut thinking is calm and wise.  Gut thinking results in unified movement with the whole body moving from the core. Gut thinking leaves the head clear of thoughts.  This is the state we call Zen.

The more we think about our movements the worse they become.  This is why under the stress of competition or of having an audience, many people fail even though they have succeeded over and again in practise.  It is when we cease thinking about them that everything comes together and we excel. Good Kung Fu flows out from the Tan Tien (the core). When chi is centred at the Tan Tien, thought is centred at the Tan Tien and the head is clear this outflow is made easy.

Taoism seeks a smooth flow in life.  No drama, no tossing and turning, no sharp changes of direction.  Just a smooth, easy, comfortable progression. Kung fu is the embodiment of this philosophy.  It has us moving smoothly and fluidly but powerfully and purposefully all the time centred at the core.  

Flow is power.  Good fighters flow.  Their movement is a work of art. 

There is a saying in Kung Fu:

The difference between the student and the Master is that the student makes the easy look difficult but the Master makes the difficult look easy.


Good kung fu flows easily.


Taoist thinking can be symbolised by bamboo which is why bamboo is so prominent in Chinese artwork.  Especially Chinese watercolours. Bamboo is hugely strong but light and supple. When struck it does not shatter, it bends and springs back.  While huge trees will snap in a gale, bamboo moves together with the wind and regains it form when the wind has passed. A good Kung Fu Master resembles a bamboo;  Flexible, springy, adaptable, resilient. The Master joins with an adversary’s force instead of resisting it, absorbs it then springs back, bends rather than being broken and all the time stays rooted to the Earth, not toppling or falling.

According to the Tao Te Ching:


Men are born soft and supple;

Dead they are stiff and hard.

Plants are born tender and pliant;

Dead they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death;

Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken;

The soft and supple will prevail.


Good advice, not only as to how to do great Kung Fu and to keep healthy into old age, but also on how to succeed in life.


Those 4,000 years of accumulated Taoist wisdom have sown that reading philosophy is often a waste of time since reading is the realm of the head brain, the conscious mind, and this is not where good philosophy is aimed.  Many people read philosophy whilst totally failing to understand it. The target is the subconscious, the gut thinking. This is where real thought power lies but it is not accessible by words. It is, however, accessible through the breath and through the body.  When we breathe from right down in the abdomen we stimulate gut thinking. When we breathe calmly we stimulate a deep calm. When we move smoothly, fluidly, flexibly, softly, continuously, purposefully we absorb these qualities into our minds and into our characters at the deepest level.  Way deeper than our conscious thoughts are capable of penetrating. This is what I call ‘embodied philosophy’. It can not be expressed in words. It has to be practised.

The words ‘Kung Fu’ mean ‘achievement resulting from diligent practise over a long time’.  Generations of Chinese Masters have passed on their wisdom and philosophy through this physical medium with huge success.  It is impossible to adequately describe Kung Fu in words because words are the realm of conscious thinking and the conscious is just a tiny part of the mind.  It is only when we go beyond words and conscious thought to study kung fu with our whole being that we have any chance of understanding. 

My teacher, Master Tan Soh Tin often told me that if I was ever to really understand Chinese Kung Fu I first needed to learn to think like a Chinese.  Having spent more than 20 years trying to do this I believe that the real secret is learning to ‘not think’ like a Chinese. Kung Fu philosophy is embodied philosophy.  It needs to be done, not studied. Just like the Tao:


‘The more you use it, the more it produces;

The more you talk of it the less you understand.’