I have students telling me they have been wanting to learn from me since a year ago, some even 4 years ago. It makes me wonder what makes them hesitate so long? Isn’t it the earlier you start the better?
Imagine you want to start learning from me 4 years later, in 4 years time you would already have 4 years of experience and gong li (Kung Fu power level) if you started now. If you want to get 4 years worth of Kung Fu, you need to wait until 8 years later. So if you are really a procrastinator and wait till 10 years later, you will have to wait 20 years later to get to where you can be if you started now! You will also be 20 years older, and life’s short. Have self righteous Singaporeans who believe they have the best education and one of the highest IQs in the world, forgotten how to do simple two digits mathematics?
Are they trying to wait till I am a 60 year old 70 year old man? Perhaps when I am old and have a long white beard and a wrinkly face they will appear more prestigious like they are learning from a wise sage?
Do they think that an older Kung Fu master is more likely to have supernatural powers such as vibrating a row of men in silky pajamas? Do they think that being a disciple to such an old master will elevate their social status?
I don’t think they will be able to get my lofty high level old saintly powers, by the time they are in their 60s and 70s and have the time and money to learn from me, they will already have deteriorated leg muscles and knee joints that medical care becomes a problem, rather than learning Kung Fu. Think, I have been strengthening myself since I was young; I’m most likely to be still strong, flexible and tough when I am 60. Far more than the average old person.
Like I have emphasized several times, when I am teaching Kung Fu the main character of the show is not me, it is you, the student. I always know I can kick butt; the question is, can my successors and descendants kick butt? People who procrastinate their whole life to learn from me, will find it impossible to pick up Kung Fu and its necessary physical ability when their body is already in decline; their DNA disintegrating. They cannot jump even a foot up into the air, they don’t even need to dream about being a swordsman flying from snow mountain to snow mountain.
Maybe they think when I am say 40 or 50 years old I will have more wisdom more knowledge and can teach them Kung Fu in a more mature way that they will be able to learn faster and improve faster. They think probably they will send their children or grandchildren to learn Kung Fu from me when I am 60 years old. Perhaps they believe that the current generation of more than 60% degree holders will create a new era where children have work life balance and can afford many hours of fun and outdoors exercise everyday like the Western life.
The truth is, masters need to have a young and able body to demonstrate combat capable Kung Fu. When they are too old or physically handicapped, it is very likely that the art they teach will be watered down. Their demonstrations will become lacklustre, full of stiff joints. Their mentality may become more reserved, pragmatic, or even withdrawn. Kung Fu is empowerment for the spirit, the Kung Fu master is supposed to encourage you and energize you, instead of being a wet blanket! I strongly encourage teachers who are honest, to stop letting your successors mimic an old feeble man; let your younger and fitter disciples do the teaching and leading.
One thing I have to respect my Sifu for, is that he is very encouraging. He never told me that our Kung Fu cannot fight. He kept re-emphasizing the components of our Kung Fu training that from his experience he know can make us capable of fighting. He encouraged us to train the same way as his generation did, like fist push ups, iron fist and tiger bricks. He is not shy to admit that there are some things he could do but cannot do anymore, as he had his heyday.
In TCM concepts, old people are full of yin and negative energy, youths are full of yang and positive energy. Old people are like the sunset; dying people are like the last glimpse of crimson on the evening clouds. The center of any Kung Fu school should be the young students, not the physically limited old master. The future dawns on the young leaders, not the old principal!
Lam Sai Wing is a good example. He was a great fighter when he was young and the standard holder for our hard style of Kung Fu. It’s highly possible that he was actually not fat when young, he only grew slightly plump in his days as an old man. Many Hung Gar practitioners gave feedback that the drawings in the manuals looks funny, like the positions are off. It’s because during the time it was drawn, Lam Sai Wing was already old and could not do the stances well.
Myth of Tai Chi masters: They only started learning Tai Chi in their middle ages or after they retired. Thus with a declining body, they are unable to empathize with the movement and training experiences of younger people. They do not have the foundation that needs to be built when young. They cannot sprint after pickpockets and pick up heavy swords just because they’ve chanced upon some mental enlightenment in their sunset years. Many Tai Chi masters like to claim that younger people, with lesser years of practice, they don’t know better.
This trend of following old people, and setting old people as their role models, came from the recent years of the over reverence of old people. The Chinese commoner’s moral ethics became thrown out of balance due to the perversion of filial piety.
As for myself, I have decided since long ago, to stop taking students latest by when I am 50 years old, earliest 40 years old. If people want to learn my Kung Fu after my official retirement, they will have to learn from my disciples. I will be there to give moral support as a grandfather figure, perhaps organize happy events and gatherings for everyone. If I have to take pictures or drawings after I retire, it will be of my future young, handsome and athletic disciples.