Happy Chinese new year everyone! Gong Xi Fa Cai! While we know Fa Cai(getting rich) is important, there is something that is more important for the good of mankind, that is the virtue of loyalty and filial piety, also known in Chinese as 忠孝之道 Zhong Xiao Zhi Dao.
Why is that so? Won’t money give you the power to do almost everything you want? Won’t it relieve you of the problems most of the people face, that is being poor? Yeah, true. Think though, if every rich man on earth is traitorous and ingrates, the world will be a terrible place to live in.
That is why loyalty and filial piety is so important to the Chinese. In the ancient Zhou Dynasty, Kong Zi(Confucius) already educated the people that this is the most fundamental virtue, so the Chinese people will live in an orderly, sustainable society for millennia to come.
Because children are loyal to their parents, families can live together peacefully and happily. Due to children taking care of their parents in their old age, through their history the Chinese have enjoyed generally longer life expectancy compared to some other country’s people. However this wonderful virtue started to fade away in the recent years as the Asian people were gradually influenced by modern Western culture. It is very much evident in the movies and television programs that children have the liberty to do what they want, that parents should not restrict their children’s freedom, and etc.
Why must I address this issue? This is because as one of the five main components of Chinese culture 琴棋书画武, the core values of Kung Fu also teaches the practitioner to be loyal to their master and parents.
They take it very seriously. Over the years I kept hearing people comment, ‘The Japanese are crazy, they kill themselves when they lose, they kill themselves when their leaders surrender. Are their lives so worthless?’ I used to agree with them. Come on, everyone have the potential to achieve great fulfillment in life, if people do not take your life, why the hell would you take your own? There’s still tomorrow?
I used to think that way until recently when I read up about the history and culture of the Japanese, as well as Chinese culture from where much of Japanese culture originates. The soldiers and warriors of a lost battle stab their stomachs to commit suicide because of a few reasons. They are too ashamed to have failed their purpose to serve their lord. Also, they would rather die as a man of their leader rather than surrender to another leader and live the rest of their life branded as a traitor. Their lives were not worth living that they have lost their honor, lost their reason to live. The Japanese were very particular about their purpose of life. They believe that every life should not be lived for nothing; life should be lived with a purpose!
The Chinese are not far behind too. While entering a clan or a martial arts sect in ancient China, members have to take a vow of allegiance. (Well, all of us who have served NS in Singapore have taken this vow too, how we hold true to it I do not know.) This is why traitors are shamed and looked down on. It is not surprising that many warriors would rather die than be labeled a traitor for life. Throughout history the Han Chinese have been invaded by the barbarians surrounding China many times, and even occupied on a few occasions. However, the Han Chinese have been faithful and loyal to their country and repelled the invaders bravely countless times.
During the Mongolian occupation and the chaos at the end of the Song Dynasty, the loyalty of the Han Chinese endured the test of time and eventually under the leadership of Zhu Yuan Zhang, the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor, the Han Chinese restored the middle kingdom back to the control of their own people. For the Manchu occupation, if the anti-Qing rebels in Southern China were actually successful in overthrowing the Manchurians before the 20th century, I wouldn’t be surprised that the next dynasty would be called the Hong Dynasty. And guess what, Hung Gar Kung Fu will be the national Kung Fu style and practiced by the loyal family instead of Tai Ji Quan and Ba Gua Zhang; and Cantonese will be the universal language throughout China instead of Mandarin. Well that didn’t happen.
In the modern times, it is not surprising to see children who have struck it rich not giving a single cent to their birth parents. I heard from a friend’s relative who felt really upset that her daughter have not given her parents much despite being married to a very wealthy man. Even as a son in law, the man should’ve made sure to share a portion of his wealth with his in laws. To us Asians this is so wrong, your parents raised you up and you would not give them wealth and happiness in return keeping everything for yourself?
Speaking about loyalty and honor in general, it is not uncommon to see many Chinese people deserting their friends and partners for greater monetary gain. They also desert their cultural heritage for self interest. The sad thing is, a few decades ago the Chinese in Singapore were encouraged to embrace the new age thinking and break free from the old ideas. Back then many Singaporean Chinese were separated from traditional morals, they went on to pursue their new center of life, money.
It is evident that most of the modern Chinese people are money centered and will put greed in front of loyalty and honor any day. Look at the state of the Chinese people now, isn’t it time for those who have horded enough money to last their family for millennia to start restoring social unity of their own people?
While many modern Chinese people think their own culture is outdated and lousy, do you know that it is being admired by people in the West? That is because of outrageous crimes such as children shooting their own parents happening in their countries. They are seeking to educate their children to prevent such acts from happening, and Chinese culture is a good way to do so. The way of thinking in the West is that your life belongs to yourself, no one can stop you from doing what you want, life’s short, live for yourself. The Chinese mindset is different. They believe that if you are born into a family, you are a man or woman of that family, your actions will reflect your upbringing, your image will affect the entire image of your family; do not disgrace your family, do them proud. This not just prevents children from doing harmful things to society, it also gives the children a reason to live for, to do their family proud! It is not surprising that if you ask the salary men in Chinese populations what drives them in doing their work, which their reason will be to support their family and allow their children to live a happy childhood; their parents to enjoy a nice retirement.
I don’t know how being rebellious can be cool, but I think most of us cannot condone the simple act of disregarding your parents after you are married to a rich man or strike it rich. In fact with Singapore’s high divorce rates, men and women in Singapore could really use some education about the ethics of loyalty to their spouse.
As I’ve been teaching many young men and teenage boys, I’ve chatted with their fathers on many occasions. Their fathers were telling me how they do not want their children to be involved in violent martial arts(they must mean modern martial arts) which only focus on fighting and making a name for themselves. They want their children to learn traditional Kung Fu in which the values of appreciating your own belonging, being proud of your identity, are taught. Yet some of their sons are defying their parents and picking up combat sport to boost their ego and show off in front of their girlfriends.
I actually heaved a sigh and told him,’ Yes, I will surely make sure your son understands and practice the ethics of Chinese Kung Fu. However you must know that I can only do what I can do. There are other Chinese martial arts groups out there who do unethical things such as sending their Wushu students to do lion dance without parents’ consent and some even worse, work in Geylang(Singapore’s red light district).’ Quite true, Chinese martial arts groups generally live a more disciplined and regulated life. After training at around 9:30pm the most we do is to have supper at the coffee shop and chat over a cup of tea. There are a minority who are the bad eggs though, and this minority is quickly increasing as the greed for financial survival increases and cultural level decreases.
For modern martial artists, indeed there are many people who will bring you to clubbing or even visit some special services at the red light districts. What happens when you spend a late night in night spots is that you get wasted from drinking too much alcohol; it’s harmful to your body and disruptive to your activities the next day. However there are always some bad eggs in Chinese martial arts groups who bring their students and juniors to waste themselves in night spots. We are certainly ashamed to have this kind of people bear the name of Chinese Kung Fu. We wonder why their Sifus give such people the power to lead their young generation.
That’s not the only example in which Chinese martial artists in Singapore shamelessly went against their ancestors’ teachings. I have a student whom I am quite close with. He told me,’ I am really fortunate to have found you. It’s okay even though you are younger than other teachers. Last time my old teacher would not spend all his time during the lesson teaching us. He will spend 2 minutes looking at the students training and making small aesthetic adjustments in their postures, and spend 5 minutes smoking cigarettes and chatting with his ah beng friends. He will not teach me the whys, whats and hows of every technique, he only wants to enjoy a puff with his friends who are not even from our school.’
To me, and to our forefathers who look upon today’s Chinese Kung Fu practitioners from the heavens above, such conduct is absolutely unacceptable. This means the leaders of Kung Fu styles now have no respect for their own deceased teachers’ teachings and the club rules they set for their disciples. If you do not even respect your own sifu, how do you expect your own students to respect you? Someone has to pick up the practice of self-conduct and responsibility of taking care of your own students, if not generation by generation people will deteriorate. Do know that people look upon us as leaders of Chinese culture, they hope we will teach their children to be upright and responsible. Do not think that we are simply a bunch of merry making men who happen to be skilled in Kung Fu, we are in fact role models for people who believe in us.
Filial piety is a heavily emphasized ethic of the Confucian Chinese conduct. Many Chinese folks merely know this on the surface. Very few actually know what filial piety is really about, and how to carry it out. While common examples of filial piety involves the children providing for their parents and taking care of them in their old age, serving their parents, giving them happiness, filial piety is actually really started with the parent leading by giving the children unconditional love. Parents will try their best to provide for their children’s material and emotional needs in their childhood. They will give their children support and guidance when they are still unable to independently lead their lives. Most importantly they have to cherish their children as a member of the family, this love has to be unconditional love.
The Chinese believe in cause and effect. If you are insensitive to your child’s feelings; if you take the convenient way of spoiling your child when he should be taught discipline; or even worse, venting your work life frustration on your child every time you return home, do not expect your children to repay you with kindness. There will not be much kindness but sore feelings and a broken relationship. You will only reap as much kindness as you sow. Yes, if you want your child to be an angel, you have to first be an angel.
That is why the act of filial piety has to start with the parent. Or in Kung Fu schools, the act of loyalty has to start with the Sifu. If you look again at the examples I’ve brought up you will see the damage done by poor leadership. Like the Wushu instructors who asked their students to convert to lion dance so they have people to help them make a windfall; and teach their students to value quick money over martial arts. Many of these students actually wanted to learn a martial art to protect them and to learn about Chinese culture like their school teachers encouraged. They had no interest in doing lion dance. But these Wushu instructors exploited the emotional vulnerability of these youths and made them become lion dance boys. If you do not respect your martial art, do not teach for your students will not respect your martial art too.
After that, he went on to do Thai Boxing and San Da in his own Kung Fu school for a few years until now. Today if you ask him what style he hails from, he says,’ San Da lor. San Da and Mue Thai lor’ Geeze, don’t you have some pride for the Kung Fu style you came from despite being a Kung Fu man? I am really ashamed of him as a Kung Fu man.
Cases like this, I can tell you do not happen to our Kung Fu society because my Sifu is really proud of Hung Gar Kung Fu. I used to ask my Sifu why he did not teach me other styles such as Wing Chun or San Da despite learning so many styles of martial arts, He always told me,’ You don’t need these, Hung Gar is enough. People learn these styles to play afool with sparring. Hung Gar will teach you how to end a fight.’ I was greatly motivated by his words and I am proudly passing down these words to my students. I tell my friends and everyone I meet that Hung Gar Kung Fu is powerful and versatile, and if they are not convinced I have no problem physically proving it to them. My students and I are loyal to my style like my Sifu is. Now you see why I tell you if a Kung Fu leader does not value his art, his student won’t too. It takes initiative from the leader to cultivate the act of loyalty.
While Chinese youngsters these days are trying to break free from the shackles of tradition and become ‘contemporary’, other ethnic groups in Singapore are struggling to restore their own traditions. I had a Malay student who learnt Hung Gar Kung Fu from me, he told me,’ I’ve been interested in martial arts since I was a boy. I wanted to learn the traditional styles which can really powerful if taught and practice correctly. I have tried many Silat(Malay martial arts) schools, they appear to have lost the real skill and are doing combat sports just like Thai Boxing and San Da. I looked and looked and got disappointed. But I always knew that Silat somehow derives from Chinese Kung Fu. That is why I am learning Hung Gar now, it resembles the techniques in Silat.’
Most people don’t start to cherish things until they are gone. They do not realize how sought after Kung Fu is. Showing a behavior of being loyal also makes people feel you are more trustworthy. We would rather trust people who are loyal to the common cause, than people who are only concerned about themselves, making ends meet for another day. This applies not just in Kung Fu, but in every area of our life when we work in a group of people. I believe that if Singaporeans can develop a sense of togetherness and loyalty, they will have better team cohesion. Many wonderful things are not done by simply one person or a pair, they take a team of motivated people working with synergy.
So Chinese people, are you loyal to your kind? For me I have not given up Chinese Kung Fu since I started martial arts and I will never give it up till the end of time. I firmly believe in the prowess and spirit of Kung Fu even though my journey as a martial artist was faced with many problems. I began this journey with performance Wushu. Shortly after I experience countless sparring sessions which kept telling me the Kung Fu I have learnt is inferior. I lost fights to modern martial artists before and these become my precious lessons which most Kung Fu men do not get to learn. I got trashed by grapplers who tied me down to the ground, I got hammered in the face by some local Chinese Thai boxing practitioners, even worse I got punched in the face by Taekwondo practitioners when I was a beginner. I had no mentor guidance at that time but none of these has diminished my faith in the power and spirit of Chinese Kung Fu. A usual teenager would’ve been disheartened and switched sides, not me.
Today I am leading a motivated group of warriors. I can’t wait for those modern martial artists who have trashed me last time to come and have a taste of my Kung Fu now.