In the year of the Tiger….

January 3, 2010

I love Chinese Kung Fu.

And I presume many of you reading this blog are on the same red boat with me.

After spending most part of my life learning, teaching and now, hopefully contributing to the research, preservation and propagation, I just want to express some angst and wishes at the start of the New Year, soon to be the year of Tiger for the Chinese.

  • Be realistic – Of all the valuable lessons taught by the many Sifus, mentors, elders and seniors, this has got to be the one that stands out. The Chinese, notwithstanding what you may have been told, are very pragmatic survivors. Throughout history, even with the many cataclysms, they are still tenaciously prospering every where they call home. And we all know that mainland China is one her way to “superpower” status and it doesn’t look like anything is going to stop that development.  My own experience growing up on the small island of Singapore is statement enough to the doggedness, malleability and judiciousness of the Chinese.  Singapore today can proudly declare to the world that “I did it my way”……….
  • The world of CKF is a compound one with so much folklores, superstitions and these days, dodgy snake oil peddlers selling all varieties of half baked reproductions; it is easy to be beguiled as some of them are very persuasive. Personally, I still say the proof is in the pudding. You can make all sorts of claims but the question really is, can you deliver? You can tell me that you are internal/external or nocturnal for all I care but in the final analysis, what is your Kung Fu??? I want to share an incident here, not to put anyone or any style down, but many years ago a “foreign” teacher wanted to start a class in the Singapore Amateur Instructors Association’s training facilities. This “foreign” teacher came with a very impressive CV endorsed by many elite organizations of TCMA and a demo was arranged for him to introduce his stuff. With a couple of his students, he took the floor and was soon throwing his students about like beach balls. Extolling the power of “internal” training, he invited the audience to test his skills. This proved to be a very unintelligent move on his part. Sitting in the audience that day were some of the best free sparring champions Singapore ever produced and half of them are from the “Iron Fist” Saolim group. I know some of them personally and I’ll tell you that you don’t want to try them and their no-nonsense bones breaking skill sets; legacy left behind by none other that the late Saolim Chief Abbot, Venerable Sek koh Sum, a name spoken with high respect even today with mainland Shaolin. Anyway, to keep a long story short, that foreign teacher was floored with just one single punch to his solar plexus area and had to be carried out and he left Singapore not long after that. In recent times, I heard from someone that he has hit big-time over in the West with his “internal I touch you and you fly mumbo jumbo”.
  • I received an email from a stranger, the kind that gets no respect from me, a while back. Hey, if you want to say something, say it in the open, veils are for the ladies and sissies….. So this thing asked how could I be dishing “chi” and “internal jin” since I belong to a White Crane group with intimate relation to the late Sarawak GM Huang Xin Xien? I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight once and for all…. I never studied with the late Huang, not his White Crane or Taiji. He was teaching at my Fuzhou school as a “guest” teacher and yes I did touch hands with him on the directions of my own teachers. Also, yes he did slam me into the cushioned walls that we had in the school. But it’s nothing like that “touch and fly” situation that you see in some of his clips. Why? Maybe because I was really “fighting” him and not engaged in Taiji push hands’ neutralizing and off setting balance routine that most of his clips are about. GM Huang was undeniably a superb Taiji push hand expert but how many of you have seen the efforts he put in to acquire his power …really how many??? Even today, if you visit his school here in Kuching, you’ll see a hanging bag weighing at least 300lbs that his descendants use for pushing training and visiting his most senior student in Sibu Sarawak, Zhi Choon Fei, I saw pretty much the same apparatus and training methods. So what so special about “internal” training??? Everything is about “hard work” – the blood, sweat and tears that you cannot avoid. Most masters, after years of honing, make it look “effortless”….. And if you think the late GM Huang was undefeatable then you don’t really know much about him at all. He lost to a Long Fist exponent in a fight in Taiwan even after attaining his “champion” status in the world of internal martial arts. You are also liable to hear how he  picked to teach his Taiji over White Crane and some folks even suggest that Taiji is a more “refined” art…..well, all I want to say is this, many  in  Sarawak know about his encounter with the other White Crane giant, GM Huang Yi Ing and their agreement not to overlap in their teaching syllabus and in Singapore, his version of “soft” White Crane was frowned upon by many White Crane elders who saw it as his own hybridized “Taiji White Crane” blend. Many of us still keep to the unique “half hard half soft” principles that Fuzhou White Crane is based upon. And as for GM Huang, he is more remembered as a Taiji master and his White Crane background takes a back seat.
  • So to repeat, I am not “dishing” or scorning “chi” except that I don’t believe in the “extraordinary” powers that some might have you believe. I guess you could say that in my 40 plus years involvement in TCMA and having met countless internal/external exponents, I have yet to be convinced of the some of the things attributed to “chi”. CKF is really nothing more than training hard and smart. I come from the old school that teaches courage, power, skill and no short cuts. You want a killer-punch or a kick that breaks rib cage, you put in the sweat.  You want to stand up against a professional fighter and win; you better train harder than him. Even then, if you don’t have his ring’s experience, it’s going to be an uphill task. Free-sparring in your own school and in front of an audience, as any experienced fighter will tell you, are 2 totally different games.
  • The world of TCMA is so fragmented these days that it pains me to read some of the squabbling going on sometimes even within the same styles of lineages. What is this all about? Everybody wants to be king? I think real kung fu people are exceptional, at least the ones I’ve met so far; they are usually modest (really) and disciplined in a way that only genuine kung fu peoples understand. It is truly like what the Germans say “The more noble, the more humble” … what happened to qualities like that in this world today. As descendants of a highly revered tradition, I humbly think we should be exemplary in the societies/communities that we live in just like the way the old masters did. Our attitudes and deeds, more than our skill, affect the fame or shame of our lineage and ancestry

And with the New Year, there is nothing that I wish more than to see more positive energies going into the conservation of authentic CKF. With the mainland opening up, better relationship with Taiwan and the internet making communications more convenient, the time is now for more to come together and salvage some of the art forms on the brink of dying out.

Hey if tiny itsy little moi can bring some 20 plus high hands from 6 countries to a place call Penang and intermingle…… envisage what else is doable….if we put our heads and hands together.

Cheers.

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