In the Chinese martial arts, it seems that if an instructor has five students, in ten years time all these students will do the same material differently. By this, in this case, I do NOT mean someone doing something wrong, incorrect or just making up things and passing them off as a famous master’s material. Rather, it seems inevitable that individuals begin to see things differently, they each have their own viewpoint and vision. There is nothing wrong in this, but it certainly does explain the wide diversity in the Chinese martial arts world.
Among the many things that Chan Tai-San taught in his lifetime was a serious of exercises known as the Gam Gong Lihn Gung (金剛練功). It was part of the Lama Pai system (喇嘛派拳術). Among the possible translations for this method is “Vajra Yoga”; an appropriate description considering that Lama Pai originated in the Western frontier and it’s practitioners were adherents of the Vajrayana school of Buddhism. When I was in charge of Chan Tai-San’s public classes and taught in a more traditional manner, the Gam Gong Lihn Gung was always part of the classes. In recent years, I have returned to reexamine it and reconsider its role in training the modern student.
Despite the religious associations with its name, the original purpose of the Gam Gong Lihn Gung in the Lama Pai system was to prepare the body for combat. This included improving flexibility, teaching body awareness, improving balance, strengthening and teaching an acceptance of pain. Of course, included in this training was instruction in the proper use of the body; to properly coordinate the body to produce the maximum result. But from this instruction we can also derive corrective movement; movement that can not only avoid injuries, but heal the body. And, of course, it would be in this regard the Gam Gong Lihn Gung retains its greatest relevance.
The Gam Gong Lihn Gung is a very unique collection of exercises; some very familiar to someone who has studied Chinese martial arts and other movements that a student of Indian yoga would immediately recognize and be comfortable with. Today, I have seen some of my classmates doing these exercises differently than I remember them. As I have already said, this is NOT a value judgement. Rather, I imagine that my vision and opinions may vary from those of my classmates after the more than two decades since we learned this from Chan Tai-San. Thus, the following are only my personal ideas on some aspects of the exercise.
Similar to most Chinese qigong (heih gung) exercises, the Gam Gong Lihn Gung teaches an awareness of breathing and a coordination of movement with breath. There remains some question about whether the beginning breathing movements we learned are part of the original Gam Gong Lihn Gung, and also some question about whether they are the origin of the “flying crane gung” that Pak Hok Pai does.
The Gam Gong Lihn Gung is done in four postures; standing, horse stance, side stance and forward stance. You will see a repetition of the same movements / concepts from each posture. Among the most basic concepts is the idea of stretching or extending.
Another aspect of the Gam Gong Lihn Gung is the repetition of gathering and sinking, and opening and closing.
Perhaps the most “Chinese” exercises in the Gam Gong Lihn Gung are those down in the horse stance. However, even these find striking parallels with movements found in the ancient Indian martial art of kalaripayattu.
Among these, the importance of correctly bending from the waist and bringing the upper body parallel to the floor.
Movements in the forward stance begin with classic Lama Pai moves such as “Lo Han Baai Faht” and “Lo Han Pak Deih”…
but the set soon includes movements similar to yoga, such as “triangle” and “warrior” poses.
I have just touched lightly upon this practice, with more to come….