First Line: Honor the founders and great grandmasters, respect your own teacher, and respect the teachings of the school.
Second Line: Learn to be compassionate, learn to be honest and righteous, learn to obtain skills through hard work.
Third Line: After learning martial skills, one can use it for self defense.
Fourth Line: A true hero does not bully the weak a single bit.
Fifth Line: Good looks does not equal to fine character.
Sixth Line: Even ten thousand taels of gold cannot guarantee teaching from the master.
Seventh Line: Family members or relatives who have no faith in the art, or no righteousness in the character, shall not be taught.
Eigth Line: A person who is not related by blood, but has a righteous character and fond love for the art, shall be taught.
Ninth Line: If one has the fate to learn the true skills of Hung Kuen,
Tenth Line: Even a dull piece of rock can be turned to gold.
This is a simple sounding poem that bears deep meaning. This is no doubt important for the Hung Gar practitioner, male or female. It is a very good representation of the closely knitted Hung Kuen community which members are brothers and sisters who have firm trust and faith in each other. Teachers would select their disciples and teach them according to these principles. This poem is a guide not just for teacher, but also for students, and passed down for generations to come.
'Honor the founders and great grandmasters, respect your own teacher, and respect the teachings of the school'
The first line means to respect and appreciate the martial ancestors and grandmasters. It is they who built the system and community of people who learn the art. Disciples of the art should honor the achievements and contributions of their martial ancestors. Respecting your own teacher means to listen to your teacher and take his words of teachings seriously. Gestures of rebellion or surpassing of authority are seen as disrespect to your own teacher. If a student has found a teacher whom is good enough to teach, the student should hold the teacher in high regard, and treat the teacher as a person of senior status. This is the ettiquette of the Oriental.
A student does not simply learn the art as a tool for personal means. When the student has decided to learn from the teacher, the student has to follow the rules of the school. A student should respect the skills being taught. This also means that without a good reason, one should not modify the original moves in the art.
'Learn to be compassionate, learn to be honest and righteous, learn to obtain skills through hard work.'
This line teaches people to be understanding towards people. Ren also means to be generous in giving either effort or possessions to help people in need. A person should be honest in dealings and impartial to everyone be it a friend or stranger. Yi also means to clearly percieve right from wrong, never being involved in acts of wrongdoings for the sake of convenience and quick self benefits. A man of righteousness will not hesitate to interfere and prevent people from distorting the truth and bringing unjustified harm to people.
'After learning martial skills, one can use it for self defense.'
This means when a person has equipped Kung Fu fighting skills through learning, the person can use it for self protection. Kung Fu's main objective is for personal security. It is very important to bear this in mind because many people intend to use Kung Fu or any other martial art for other purposes. A harmful purpose will be to find fights to fight. Another purpose which people tend to place as a primary objective is for health. I couldn't stress enough that if you practice Kung Fu for health, it will not be as effective as practicing Kung Fu for combat situation and obtain health as a bonus.
'A true hero does not bully the weak a single bit.'
This is a follow up to the previous line. A real gentleman or virtuous lady has no need to demonstrate superiority by physically hurting the weak. A true martial hero does not intentionally pick fights with weaker opponents. It also means that if one has defeated the opponent and the opponent is in a weakened state unable to put up resistance and do any harm to others, the victor should not injure or humiliate the defeated further.
'Good looks does not equal to fine character.'
This line should be very understandable. Do not judge people based on looks. This not just applies to Kung Fu, it applies to every area of life too, when people is trying to find someone trustworth and compatible.
'Even ten thousand taels of gold cannot guarantee teaching from the master.'
There are many people who have not fulfilled the qualities of the first few lines. They can be two-faced, disrespectful and selfish. But they may possess great riches and try to tempt the teacher into teaching with money. Some teachers in the past had fallen prey to the temptation and it has led to men of ill character using Kung Fu for the wrong ends.
While it is certainly not wrong to spend more time in a student who is able to pay handsome fees, a teacher should place character as the most important criteria. Anyone who does not show good character should not be accepted, regardless of financial background.
'Family members or relatives who have no faith in the art, or no righteousness in the character, shall not be taught.'
This line is phrased together with the eigth line. There are Kung Fu masters who make their children learn their Kung Fu from young. However, some of these children do not actually have true lasting passion for Kung Fu. It is no point to forcibly make their own children do Kung Fu, as they do not view Kung Fu with importance, eventually they'll quit.
Even if the child is fond of learning Kung Fu, if the child is not righteous in thought and doing, a master shall not teach the child, as with anyone else who is not righteous.
'If one has the fate to learn the true skills of Hung Kuen, even a dull piece of rock can be turned to gold.'
This final line says that though the art of Hung Kuen is not to be lightly passed to anyone, people who has fate to learn and master Hung Kuen will become a person who is valuable to society. The masters of Hung Kuen asks not of the art to have the most practitioners in the world or be a treacherous martial art everyone fears. But every fated disciple to learn the art will be polished into a good martial artist. That is why teachers of the art are patient and closely guides every student.
No matter how poor his talent, as long as a student is keen to learn, a teacher will try his best to make the student into a good martial artist. If as student has any personal issues or doubts about himself or the style, the master should be always ready to lend a listening ear and provide motivation.
Apart from this poem, Li Sifu told me, 'It is hard for students to find good teacher. It is hard for teachers to find good students too.'
There is also the factor of affinity. Some people just cannot do a style with kicks as their legs are short or they have conservative mentality. Some people have problem doing hard styles because they have low pain tolerance and are easily bruised. There are people who are born strong and robust but are doing soft and conservative styles which are much more suited for small boned practitioners with low energy capacity.
From here we can really see that it takes a passionate and talented student to meet a loving and skilled master to make an outstanding Kung Fu expert. The two of them have to spend time under the right circumstances and get along well througout the years. We can say that Kung Fu experts are created the miraculous works of fate, and not merely a one-sided effort.
I was really glad I could converse so openly on many topics with Li Sifu during my stay. On my previous trips, I didn't have time to train and talk with Li Sifu and his students much as I was concentrating on events and competitions. I knew much of Hung Kuen's history from him, one of the biggest takeaway has to be the poem of Hung Gar student-teacher philosophies.
This poem is a good maxim for promoting mutual relationship between student and teacher. From here we can see that the style promotes a martial family bonding, instead of coming and going with no strings attached. The style has seen generations of practitioners. Yes, the style might not be the flashiest or the most populous, but every practitioner grows up, and grows old with the fond experiences, and of course the lasting health and fitness which comes along.