After learning the Six Conformities and Eight Methods of the Hua Mountain (SCEM - 華嶽心意六合八法) for about one and half years, I was asked by Master Kam Tong (金彤) to write an essay on the topic.With skin deep understanding of the SCEM art, this is a daunting task. There are three difficulties facing all martial art students. They are namely the difficulty in finding a competent teacher suitable for the student; the difficulty of having the competent teacher willing to teach the student; and the difficulty of the student learning the art. This essay is a reflection on the joy and despair in learning SCEM at the age of 56.
Search for a style and a competent teacher
With a myriad of martial art styles, it is a challenge to decide on which particular style to learn from and to identify a competent teacher for that style. For most young macho students the hard Shaolin style kung fu, Taekwando and Karate are the favoured martial art schools. The soft style, such as Taijichuan, is preferred by the elderly and female students.
After deciding on a suitable martial art style, finding a competent sifu is problematical. The conventional wisdom is to learn from one of the highest Dan black belts or a famous sifu from a renowned school with a lineage traceable back to an eminent grandmaster. A good exponent of any style does not necessary mean that he is a good teacher. There are many high ranking Dan black belts who received their higher Dan due to their long and sterling service to the club and not to their deeper understanding of the art. For marketing reasons, many teachers will project their style of martial art as the ultimate desirable one. It is, therefore, difficult for a student to know who is a good and competent sifu. Additionally a student lacks skills to identify and appreciate the teacher's mastery of the martial art techniques. In selecting a teacher, the personal rapport between the teacher and the student is a key factor.
Difficulty of learning
One of the main reasons of learning difficulty is the inability to forego previously acquired techniques especially when the new physical requirements are opposite to the previously familiar movements. Even with a good teacher, a student often finds it difficult to absorb and understand the lessons. A common complaint is that the master withholds vital information from the students learning the art. Although this claim may be true in some instances, more often than not, the students are at fault. Quite a number of students have the grandiose idea of being an instant master within a short period of time. With the passage of time and their skill level is still found wanting, they blame the teacher instead of their own inability and the lack of practice. Without practice, there will be no improvement. With the stress and strain of balancing the demand of work and family in a modern society, it takes dedication to schedule practice sessions. At the same time, the teacher needs to appreciate the difficulties of the learners and design training sessions that will benefit the students. It is an effort even for a good teacher to dispense with a one-minute praise and one-minute criticism to assist in the improvement of the students.
Physical exercises, such as brisk walk, golf and yoga, maintain and promote health. Why do I choose SCEM at 56? Since my student days, I have learnt a variety of martial arts ranging from karate to Taijichuan. It is my failing that I have not achieved any reasonable level of sophistication in any one of these martial arts. Lack of dedication and physical capability has left me searching for the Holy Grail in martial art. At my age, I am not interested to be the next Jackie Chan or a world beater. I am interested in the theory and the nonchalant generating of power in the execution of a movement. It was fate or karma that a good friend of mine introduced me to Master Luo to learning SCEM.
Despite its long history, SCEM is relatively unknown in comparison with the Shaolin kungfu or Taijichuan. What are the reasons that attract me to SCEM? SCEM is a strange discipline of martial art. The SCEM exercises are based on the utilization of the innate strength of the tendons and joints. Due to lifelong habits, most of these joints and tendons movements are forgotten. In SCEM, the training revolves around the relaxation of these tight joints and tendons so that they can be mobilized upon command from the brain (intention). The movements in SCEM often look weird in comparison with many other martial art forms. The required SCEM movements are frequently the direct opposite to what one expects normally. With the principle of relaxation instead of tightening of the body muscles and tendons, it is easier said than done. With one’s usual dependence on muscular strength, the SCEM style is both frustrating and yet fascinating. The subtlety in the SCEM movements attracts and intrigues me.
It was a challenge to learn SCEM under Master Luo in the last one and half years. The complexities and precise positioning of the movements were nightmares for me. In the initial few lessons, Master Luo taught the basic breathing technique and five callisthenic exercises - heart, spleen, liver, lung and kidney. These five exercises encompassed the fundamental SCEM movements for the control of the tendons and joints. Master Luo lamented that many students do not place enough emphasis on these fundamentals. For someone who is not a Chinese scholar, SCEM is especially hard to learn. To help a novice to learn the required movements there are standard Chinese verses that provide mnemonic guides. These poetic verses are hard to translate into other languages without losing some of their nuances. Master Luo requires the Chinese educated students to learn these mnemonics by rote. Luckily or unfortunately, non Chinese educated students are exempted.
After teaching the basic exercises, a student was left to his own devices for a period of time to practice the basic principles. During this period, a novice may feel neglected. To progress in SCEM, one needs to stretch the tendons and loosen the joints. It is regrettable that some students give up after a few months. By persevering in the practice of these basic exercises, one can experience gradual changes in one’s movement. I am still a long way from being competent with the first ‘heart’ exercise after one and half years! On reflection, every time that I have learnt an additional requirement for a movement, Master Luo would complicate the movement requirement with another additional condition. Instead of keeping the finer points of the art secret, the inundation of the criteria for the execution of a particular movement overloads my learning capability.
I am fortunate in discovering a suitable martial art style and a compatible sifu. Despite my slow learning capbility, I am an optimist who has faith, hope and charity. I have faith that my tenacity in practice will permit me to eventually gain some understanding of the SCEM art. Hope that I will live long enough to achieve it. I am grateful that Master Luo is charitable to persevere with me.