Madame Simu Ou-Yang Min, AKA Madame Y (1909 - 2007)
My original introduction to Empty Force came through my Chinese medicine teacher Dr. Lai Yat Ki. Over the years that I studied Traditional Chinese Medicine with Dr. Lai he told me many stories of his teachers and others back in China who had developed a unique power that they were able to utilize for martial arts, healing and divination purposes. Sometimes Dr. Lai would ‘bump’ me with his Qi and it would make me jump. Occasionally I could feel this force come through his eyes or through his entire Qi field and direct me in his clinic or on our many excursions through San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Sitting, Standing and Walking
Dr. Lai encouraged me to study with his friends Master Cai, Sang Feng and Sifu Fong Ha. Sifu Ha introduced me to sitting, standing and walking practices. He and his senior students would frequently work with me to help develop my own Qi in order to understand and receive Empty Force better. Sifu Ha’s group worked with and practiced Empty Force techniques on a regular basis, and it didn’t take long for me to become fascinated with this art.
When I began studying with Sifu Ha I had been practicing Tai Qi very seriously for several years. This practice made me quite strong and flexible, but had no appreciable effect on my cultivation of Qi. I was shocked when Sifu Ha suggested that instead of practicing so much Tai Qi, I would do much better to practice standing meditation instead. Honestly, I didn’t believe him at the time, but I agreed that I would try it for one year and check the results.
My body changed a lot after doing standing practice for several months. I got leaner and my posture and attitude changed. I had no idea how much stronger I was until one day I had to move a very heavy couch that I hadn’t touched since the days when I did so much Tai Qi. I dreaded doing the job and did my best to avoid it because I was barely able to move the couch at all at that time.
Finally the day came when I had to move the couch no matter what. I was blown away to discover that I was able to lift the couch and maneuver it like it was an empty cardboard box or a giant piece of Styrofoam! In that moment, I became a rabid enthusiast for Kong Jing, or Empty Force. Even though I can’t say by any stretch of the imagination that I was moving that heavy couch with Empty Force, the fact that I was so much stronger from only doing Zhan Zhong meditation instead of heavy physical and martial training was a real eye opener for me.
I studied with Sifu Ha for several years until life and adventures took me elsewhere. I am still very grateful for the introduction to the world of Empty Force that he gave me. Even though I was no longer able to study with Sifu Ha, I continued with the practices he taught me.
After some time I heard through a student of Brian O’Dea at the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley that Madame Min Ou Yang, AKA Madame Yu, was alive and teaching in San Francisco. My first exposure to Madame and Professor Yu came from a video that Fong Ha had shown me some years before of them throwing their students by bouncing their Qi off of a brick wall and knocking the students around like billiard balls. This was impressive to say the least, but I never imagined that I would be able to study such Kung Fu myself at that level.
How wrong I was. The story of how I actually got to study with Madame Yu is long and hilarious. I have recounted that tale in the book Yu’s Qi Gong, so I needn’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that for the next 13 years I entered into the world of Qi Gong and Empty Force in ways that I never dreamed possible. In fact, if I learned anything at all during that time it was to not let my dreams limit me and hold me back from what is truly possible, all of which goes completely beyond imagination.
Flying, bouncing, many illusions and miraculous healings were all daily fare in the basement studio of Madame Ou Yang, who I rapidly came to call by her honorific title of Shi Mu, Honorable Mother. Pretty much anything that you’ve seen in a Kung Fu movie I saw and/or was part of in that basement. Those many years were grueling, demanding and totally worth it. When a real teacher comes into your life in that way, you cannot put it off for another time. You have to just do it. I did.
Madame Yu was nearly 101 years old when she passed. She left behind a jigsaw legacy where each of her students holds a part of the whole of her teaching. The reason for this is that each of us was only able to absorb as much as her/his capacity allowed, and Madame Yu had much more to teach than any of the students could fully embody. Although this was a source of frustration for those involved, it also underscores the quintessential core of her teaching: each person has his/her own Kung Fu to develop. This personal Kung Fu is determined by a combination of factors that include raw potential, willingness, commitment, discipline and destiny.
Studying Empty Force Today
In the wake of Madame Ou Yang’s departure, only two of her students are teaching her system openly. They are John Cole of Vallejo, California and Dale Freeman of Chico, California. I continue to study and practice with each of them and plan to spend as much time as possible in this endeavor for many years to come.
When I discovered Taijiquan in 1968, I was not searching for an esoteric energy practice. I was an interested martial arts student who was more enthusiastic than knowledgeable. For some reason Taiji stayed with me as I grew and continued to provide a background for my own maturing. As I attempted to deepen my understanding of the science of the body as practiced in the energy work of Taoism, I heard stories about amazing powers and abilities attributed to the most adept of Internal Martial Arts (Ba Gua, Xingyi, Taijiquan etc ... ) practitioners. Sometimes I could understand the skills mentioned form the experience of my own practice, but the ability to move another person without touching him/her always seemed a little farfetched. After the demonstration of "Empty Force" on Bill Moyer's show, my curiosity was once more aroused and I was starting to think seriously about how to use the Internal Energy I was cultivating. My path led to John Cole, an acupuncturist from Vallejo, Ca., whose teacher, Min Ou-Yang had been teaching this sort of thing since coming to the US with her husband in the early 1980's. While staying with John last summer he sat me down in front of the TV and popped in a video tape of au-Yang Min doing a demonstration for a Japanese TV production team, again and again a 400 lb. man was running toward her with the intent to push her but each time he was stopped and somersaulted backward 20 feet before coming to rest. At other times, she seemed to be controlling the movements of several people as they tried to attack her from various angles, using martial arts techniques. No one could get near this little old lady, I became more curious and when John suggested a visit to her studio, I agreed. Ou-Yang Min, a petite 89 year old wearing purple and blue warm-up clothes sized me up with a fierce look in her eye and a bright smile and I bowed in greeting and took a seat to watch what would happen. She proceeded to go to work on John and his student Mike, first adjusting their Qi with brushing and swirling movements of her hands saying that their Qi was very dirty. After a few moments she began bouncing them around the room like a pair of human pin balls. Others were added to the field of play and she kept everyone moving or held them still with strong projections of her Qi. A constant flow of broken English encouragement or admonition punctuated the non-stop action. I became aware of heightened energy in the room and began feeling areas of my body tingle, a sensation I knew from meditation practice. Sometimes she would hold a person down on the floor as though she had wrapped a lead weight around their waist. At other times she would have people bouncing up and down to discharge the Qi she was adding to their body. Everyone was feeling good from the interaction and constantly thanked her for the Energy exchange. She seemed to be using different flow techniques that were applied according to a particular Martial Art, Shaolin boxing, Taijiquan, Bagua, or Xingyi and John and Mike described the feeling of each to me later. What she was doing was channeling her built-up energy, which was tremendously strong, to a focused purpose and augmenting the energy of others at the same time. No one in the room was able to withstand her will. When she wanted to move you, you moved. This session was followed by standing meditation and Taijiquan (T'ai Chi) class but we left early to have dinner. The following is an interview with John Cole about his experiences learning and teaching Kong Jing - Empty Force - Chi Kung.
Mike Basdavanos is the Director of Dancing of Mountain TaijiQuan and Taoist Arts.
An Interview With John Cole
Q: What can you tell us about the lineage of your of teacher, Min Ou- Yang? Can you give us a brief history of her life-experience in the realm of working with energy?
JC: What is the lineage of Ou-Yang Min? For those unfamiliar with the concept of lineage, it is the link of the teacher with others in the same tradition, back through history, similar to one's family tree. Lineage bestows respectability and antiquity. It can also give a deceptive sense of authenticity. As knowledge is passed from generation to generation, some information is dropped and new perspectives are gleaned from current experience. I explain to my students that I teach what I learned, though it may not be exactly what my teacher taught.
Ou-Yang Min, or Simu (a Cantonese dialect term of respect for the teacher's wife), received a wealth of experiential knowledge from a host of exceptional teachers. Simu was born into a very wealthy family. Her father, a Daoist, started teaching her when she was very young. At the age of six, she began her instruction in Buddhist practice with an aunt. At the age of 14, she began serious martial arts practice six hours a day. This eventually expanded to 12 hours a day. Simu's teachers were hired as private tutors, who came and lived in the family compound.
Yang Chan Fu, a famous Taijiquan instructor, taught Simu three hours a day for five years. He was given room and board in addition to a salary. Servants watched to insure Simu's diligent training and to insure propriety. Ou-Yang Min received Yang Chan Fu's complete transmission. One day she confronted him with his book on Taiji and asked him, "Why are you not teaching the Taiji form as it is presented in your book?" He replied, "The book is for public knowledge and is not real Taiji." Most systems of this kind are passed on through oral and experiential transmission. To learn the unique details of the tradition, one must experience them firsthand and be corrected by a knowledgeable expert, or your form or technique will acquire a "virus" that will undermine your growth. It is not that these important details are necessarily secrets, but it requires finesse to transmit knowledge.
One of Simu's most important teachers was her husband, Dr. Yu Peng-Xi, a devout Buddhist who had studied with a Lama of the Red Hat Sect (one of the five main branches of Tibetan Buddhism). Simu studied with her husband as well as receiving complete transmission from a Tibetan Lama.Â Dr. Yu also learned various Qi Gong techniques in monasteries and temples in the Tibetan and Chan (Zen) Buddhist traditions. In his pursuit of Qi Gong and martial excellence, he became of disciple of Wang Xiang-Zai, a superior Xing-yi practitioner. Dr. Yu combined Wang's techniques with Tibetan Buddhist cultivation practices, developing, among other skills, Kong Jing, or empty force, the ability to move his opponents without touching them.
John Cole demonstrates the power of the "empty force".(Picture) Oi Gong practitioners work with Jing, Oil and Shen, (essence, energy and spirit).
Ou- Yang Min, married to Dr. Yu for sixty years, carries on the tradition of cultivating Qi as part of her daily practice. She is 90 years young and actively teaches Qi Gong, Taiji, and Xingyi six days a week.
Q: In what ways is this system of energy development synergistic with other practices and systems? For example, does this practice" override" the Qi development in Taiji practice? How does it differ from the channeling in Reiki or other types of subtle energy bodywork?
JC: The answer lies in personal experience. I have observed a number of teachers of Qi Gong. Some have graduated from a three-month course with a certificate of completion; these people have a lot of enthusiasm and are able to parrot explanations of a technique. Some have been practicing for long periods and are able to communicate how the technique works for them. Some are great scholars and have the ability to translate the classics, have an established practice, and are teaching. Some have the benefit of excellent teachers.
Most Qi Gong practitioners have a superficial practice. With a little Qi practice, some experienced healers are able to influence others' Qi in a beneficial way. The real questions is, "What method do I need to profoundly influence my Qi development?" All Qi systems are a group of techniques bound together with a philosophy. I have observed a number of excellent Qi Gong practitioners. One impressive cultivator was the late Venerable Chan Master Hsuan Hua of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. His Qi sparkled like diamonds and was full of love and compassion. Another practitioner, Yan Xin would stand in front of thousands of people, and the ill and infirm would feel healed. Simu is another example. She knocks down ten or 20 martial artists by what appears to be just looking at them.
One can practice the techniques of any system, but the core of your practice must be the cultivation of your own Qi. Qi Gong will challenge you to better your Taiji practice, or your healing work, or other related practices you may do.
Q: Why is it important to study within the framework of a particular lineage or system? For example, does the framework give the practitioner a way to measure or verify development of their skills, to compare notes and verify effects with others?
JC: A baby develops best with loving parents who provide examples through behavior. "Do as I say, not as I do," is not as good as "Let us do it this way to achieve the best results." Example, repetition, correction, and practice create skill. Skill becomes knowledge. For some, there is the leap from knowledge to wisdom, thinking out of the box. Thinking out of the box before skill and knowledge, however, frequently leads to disaster.
When working with others within a system, with an excellent teacher, you will have constant feedback. Constructive criticism and direction promote a clearer way. The real verifier of growth is the realization of change. "I couldn't do this before!"
Q: How does Qi Gong practice affect mental states of anxiety, stress, disease, etc.?
JC: This is easy. Qi Gong has a beneficial effect on life. In my years of studying and practicing Chinese medicine, my objective is always to improve the quality of living. Generally there is no cure for death. However-keeping in the spiritual vein-cultivating in the Daoist manner leads to immortality. Cultivating in the Buddhist manner leads to rebirth as a higher being and, eventually, Nirvana. Cultivating in the Islamic, Christian, or Jewish way leads to heaven.
Practicing Qi Gong, most people feel pressures drop and a calmness descend, even in the midst of a storm. We change our response to stimulus. The world's crises don't press our buttons as hard, and we are able to look at problems without "acting out."
Q: How is projecting your Qi of benefit? For example, in bodywork, martial arts, focusing the mind, dealing with other people, etc.?
JC: Intelligent hygiene requires washing the body, brushing the teeth, wearing clean clothes, etc. Qi also should be cleaned. Projecting Qi helps to eliminate stagnation. Stagnation breeds all kinds of ills. Projecting Qi allow the size of your Qi to grow.
But one should learn how to protect oneself before projecting Qi. Some uninformed have projected Qi for a variety of reasons and report an uneasiness or the feeling of being drained. A particular warning must be issued to martial artists. Instruction and practice are important in using Qi with an opponent. It is possible to upset both your own and your opponent's energy.
Qi Gong is valuable when dealing with others.
Qi is an effective form of communication. But here, again, it's important not to put the cart before the horse. You must first learn to control your Qi. Then it will become a valuable asset in communication.
Qi cultivation becomes a way of life. After practicing for a period of time (years), your Qi can become longer, thicker, denser, brighter, and cleaner. As this occurs, it is possible for your Qi center to descend. It is a high goal of Daoists and Buddhists to have the Qi truly descend into the dantian (the lower abdominal cavity). Most do not succeed. We are born with this Qi center around the navel, with all the Qi pathways open and an abundance of Qi flowing freely. By adolescence the Qi center has moved up into the chest, some of the Qi pathways are obstructed and blocked, leaving only a trickle to some areas of the body. The key is to become more childlike-then there is a chance your Qi may descend. Persistent diligent practice is vital. Seek out a teacher who is capable of taking you down the road of Qi cultivation.
Q: Do you have a breathing exercise in your practice?
JC: I find breathing exercise beneficial to Qi development. In the higher forms of altered states, or meditation, the breathing disappears. In other words, the breathing is not of primary importance in that context. It becomes a natural event and is no longer heard or felt. It has become second nature once learned, and the focus is elsewhere.
But the students I work with in workshops have some, little or no Qi experience, so it is my responsibility to effectively communicate understanding. When I teach, I provide vivid images to coincide with the breath and physical sensations to enable students to experience Qi. I believe it is important to challenge everyone intellectually, physically, and energetically. It is equally important for the challenged to be victorious, for winning instills confidence and promotes practice. Our goal is to establish a beneficial practice.
Q: In your upcoming workshop in the Washington, D.C., area, are you going to use static and moving practices?
JC: Yes. Life has many aspects. The mind needs clarity. The body houses the mind and requires movement and stillness to be healthy and clean. We will be doing active and passive movement. Energy is defined by the function it provides. We work to unify the mind, body, and energy, which will promote optimum functioning. If we function with clarity and ease of movement we improve the quality of living. I have taken exercises and techniques from martial arts movements and married them to Qi theory and Qi pathways both within and outside the body. In addition to this, we will be practicing Qi Gong meditation, which on the outside seems serenely similar to many other forms of meditation, but on the inside is very active.
There will be a lot to absorb in a short time. The only way to really learn is to experience learning as a child experiences a new thing or event. The key goal here is to experience, as a child, with awe and wonder. One must experience to recreate, practice to instill, and be corrected to move towards artistry. These are all necessary for growth.
Q: What is your story? How did you get started in Qi Gong?
JC: Back in 1971 I was working and felt the need for "something more." I tried lots of different exercise programs: running, weight training, etc. They were boring. I looked into the martial arts community and wasn't impressed with grunt and kill.
I met George Long, who taught Tibetan White Crane Gong Fu. He said, "Don't worry, I'll take care of your mind." Dr. Long, besides being a superb martial arts instructor, was an acupuncturist. Thus began my odyssey into Chinese culture. Besides teaching me White Crane and acupuncture, he had me do slow soft movements without explanation. When I asked about them, he told me, "Just do them, don't ask questions, don't think."
One day in the office I yawned and stretched.
A woman with her back to me, about ten feet away, jumped and yelled. She turned to me very frightened and asked, "What did you do to me?" I had done nothing but yawn, but realized I had repeated one of the exercises while yawning. I tried yawning again. She jumped and ran. Later she returned and said she had behaved foolishly. I didn't argue, but I knew something new had happened.
I have experienced Qi with a number of instructors and teachers: Chan Hak Fu, Grand Master of the White Crane Federation; Dr. Tsuei Wei, my Taijiquan instructor; Wang Yen-Nien, Grand Master of the Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan system and Daoist teacher; Tohei, Koichi Sensei, founder of the Ki Society International; Tanouye Tenshin, a Rinzai Zen Master at Chozen-ji, Hawaii; the Venerable Chan Master Hsuan Hua of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas; Fu, Wei Zhong, the secular head of the Er Mei Buddhist Sect in China; Yan Xin, who seems to have disappeared in the Internet; and Min Ou-Yang, whom I have diligently studied with for the last eleven and a half years. Simu has literally blown me away, thrown me across the room without touching me, knocked me down with a glance.
Q:Â What is Qi?
JC: Defining is an art form. My definition of Qi is constantly changing with my ongoing attempt to combine experience with understanding. First, Qi is energy. In the entire universe there exists only energy. Science tells us this, but this is too abstract for our purposes. Generally Qi is that unique integration of energy (bio-energy) that combines water and matter, and differentiates people, animals, and plants from inanimate things. All Qi activities are defined by the function that Qi provides. There is no activity without energy. We are made up of a mind, a body, and energy. Life is a combination of spiritual (mind) energy and the body. They are inseparable.
The universe is a moving, living organism. The energetic forces that move and shape it are alive. It is life on a scale that makes us seem insignificant. It is easier to deny that universe's life than to accept the fact that we are smaller than ants. The study of Qi allows for greater understanding and acceptance.
Q:Â Don't you contradict science and philosophy with your description of Qi?
JC: No. Just as my experiences create an evolving definition, science and philosophy evolve with each new discovery. Scientific discovery, like seeing a star being born, is surely an energetic experience. A child's birth is an energetic experience. With a baby's first breath there is a burst of Qi within the room. This burst of energy is not mom's energy; mom is exhausted. If you are fortunate enough to experience the birth of a child and are able to watch the Qi, the energy will light up the room. Your heart will be awed. The light is clean, clear, and bright white, containing all the colors of the spectrum. Recently astro-photography has captured the Orion nebula and recorded the birth of a star, with bright light and colors similar to the birth of a baby. This is food for thought.
Q: Could you talk about Jing, Qi, and Shen?
JC: In working to unify body, mind, and spirit, Qi Gong practitioners work with Jing, Qi, and Shen (essence, energy, and spirit), the Three Treasures in Chinese medicine, derived from Daoist philosophy. Which came first, medicine or philosophy? I don't know. These three are linked to the three dantian or elixir fields, areas of the body which are philosophical and, from my perspective, reallocations of energy.
Jing is associated with the lower dantian, located between the navel and the mingmen (between the second and third lumbar vertebrae) and the huiyin (in the perineum). Jing is frequently translated as essence. This essence is a refined source of energy. There are three sources of Jing. Pre-heaven or prenatal Jing is received before birth, as in nourishment received through the navel. Post heaven of after-birth nutrients are absorbed in the small intestines. And kidney essence, or yang energy produced in the mingmen, helps regulate growth, development, reproduction, and longevity. Another explanation of the three sources of essence is as follows: Pre-heaven essence is the inherited genetic code; post-heaven essence is the sum of the environmental influences and nutrients absorbed after birth; and kidney essence is the combination of pre- and post-heaven essence, along with their potential to influence your future.
In Daoist philosophy, it is important to nourish and protect this essence, then convert it into clean Qi. This Qi moves up into the middle dantian. The middle dantian is located in the middle of the chest. This is the natural Qi center for adults. This is the area of the heart and lungs and is in charge of circulating Qi (translated as air or oxygen) and blood, another source of nutrients. The post heaven Qi comes from the food and liquid you consume and is attributed to the stomach/ spleen function. The stomach is the grain and water storehouse, and the spleen's function is to extract the nutrients from the gross and send the refined up to the heart for distribution.
Shen is housed in the head, in the upper dantian, which lies between the temples and behind the center of the eyebrows, above the nose. Shen is the mind and manifests or radiates through the eyes. The heart and mind are closely linked and therefore the heart is in charge of the spirit. Baby's eyes shine with Shen. People in love shine. The eyes show Shen or vitality. This vitality is refined Qi turned into Shen.
You can easily see the correspondences, from the gross to the rarefied. The essence, Jing, equates with the lower dantian and the earth. Shen and the upper dantian correspond to heaven. We, as energetic beings, are Qi in the middle dantian, between heaven and earth. We stand upright; our head is in the heavens and our feet are on the earth.
Q: Is the Jing, Qi, Shen relationship important to your Qi Gong practice?
JC: I recognize the relationships and it helps to explain my practice. Do I use it when I'm practicing? No. It is just information, and thinking about it would be a distraction.
This upward movement from Jing to Shen parallels stages of life. A baby is born with Qi in the lower dantian because the fetus is fed through the navel right into the lower abdomen. By the time one goes through puberty, the Qi has moved up into the chest. By the time we are ready to die, we are just talking heads.