Even though we don’t get a true Autumn here… it always feels like the leaves are falling on me! October 12th is my father’s birthday, October 31st is my mom’s birthday, and November 2 is the anniversary of the temple. This is a busy time for me! I always get overwhelmed and am worried about what to do for the celebrations, not sure what gifts to get for my parents… and I usually start planning about a year away. So last year, I already knew that this year we would be celebrating my dad’s birthday in England, and my mom would be having a huge bash for her 70th milestone! This means I had to do something ‘low key’ for the 37th anniversary of the Temple. By low keyI mean having something with only about 100 people… this is low key! We are having a lecture, book signing, and ‘Celebration of Food’ at the Temple tomorrow. I’m excited. I have been talking about this ‘Celebration of Food’ idea on my podcasts, and feel that it is just what the doctor ordered. I’ve been frustrated at the divisiveness of this country lately. Especially since I just returned from visiting the hallowed grounds
of the D-Day beaches, Normandy American Cemetery, and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I was so proud to be American as I walked through these places thinking about what our country was fighting for, and the sacrifices that were made. I feel that we have become so angry with one another now that we forget how alike we are. I truly believe everyone has something in common. Yes, we are all human, yes we all breathe air, etc. but the one real commonality that I see people unite over is food. More often than not, we as humans don’t just eat to live, we live to eat! My wishful thinking is that if the world could participate in a huge potluck and respect each others’ culture through the sharing of food, then we could all be friends. Hopeful? Naive? Maybe. However, I can still dream and partake of all the delicious meals people will be bringing tomorrow. I promise to share some photos after the event on our Facebook page.
The other major stress this weekend has been the 100 guest list formal birthday party that I’m planning at my parents house. I’ve gutted the interior and transformed it into a ballroom. Linens, centerpieces, champagne welcome, and a buffet station with a 10 course meal lies ahead. (as if we wouldn’t have eaten enough that day) Some people have said I am crazy to have 2 main events in 1 day. They would be right. (However… I have done this many times before… holding a tournament and a huge stage production the same day anyone?) I like to pride myself in my logistical prowess, and my strong event planning skills… while both events will be incredible, I am feeling the effects. We just returned from the Grand Opening of Wah Lum of Germany less than 2 weeks ago, had a big Parent Day Show for the kids class right when we got back, and then jumped into planning for all the events this weekend… I’m stressed. I admit that I can’t handle it as well as I did in my extreme youth. I’m grumpy, I’m tired, and I’m frustrated! My parents and I have different planning methods, that often clash and I have had to make adjustments over the years. As I get older, I get more stubborn…and I think it’s safe to say the same goes for them! It can be a nightmare to try to work it all out, but in the end I remember one of the most important things in life is gratitude, and it leaves me with these questions:
How lucky am I that I have parents that are around with soooo much energy to drive me bananas?
How lucky am I to have the opportunity to throw a 70th birthday party for my mom and celebrate the 37th anniversary of the Wah Lum Temple all on the same day?
O always tells people if they want to lose weight just follow around Grandmaster Chan for one day. That is definitely one way to burn calories. A day in the life of Grandmaster Chan consists of waking up before the sun and working in the sun, often until it goes down. Grandmaster Chan enjoys his time in the garden and tending to his fish. Whenever he goes on vacation, one lucky person is given the task of watching over his fish and plants. No one wants this job. All will be going well, and then right before he is due home, suddenly a plant or worse, fish dies! It is a nerve racking time for us back home and we have been known to try and resuscitate fish! No CPR or anything, but we were taught to push the fish through the water, as it moves the water through the gills. We have saved a few this way.
Back to a day in the life of Grandmaster Chan.
He is a creature of habit. He wakes up goes to the Temple to bisan, and makes his breakfast. (usually oatmeal and coffee) While water is boiling or the oatmeal is cooking he will start clearing things around the kitchen. After his breakfast he starts his outdoor routine. If you have ever been around the Temple in the morning or mid day, you might catch him doing any of the following: building fences of bamboo, clearing leaves or garbage from the Temple grounds, planting new trees, or even on the roof clearing the gutters. I am not very happy about that one! Depending on what area needs his attention he makes his way there and never asks for help. As a matter of fact when you try to help it often ends up being a bit of a fight…and who wants to fight with a Grandmaster of kung fu? At that point just volunteer to take care of the fish.
A question I get asked a lot is: Does he still practice kung fu? And my answer: every day. Maybe I haven’t ‘seen’ him doing right hand stick or 36 hands this week, but I see him using a broom (stick) to sweep the floors everyday, and I watch in awe as he moves up and down in a squat or to a side to side while cooking, cleaning, chopping, or clearing the grass…just like a form. He is constantly moving, and constantly working…. working hard = kung fu.
Nope. I can’t juggle. I actually can barely catch a ball. However, I do juggle tasks and priorities all the time. Same goes for my personal training, unfortunately sometimes it has to take second or even third place in line of what needs to get done.
When the Sifu Test was approaching, I was in kung fu mode 24/7. I even visualized my forms before sleeping! Not that I don’t practice my kung fu consistently, but as I have mentioned in previous posts, my year is scheduled out according to my work schedule, and I go from there. This weekend, O is at a 4 day fitness summit learning a bunch of fun fitness things. So for these few days, the priority is taking care of his fitness clients and coaching his classes. At the same time, I also have to make sure that the kung fu and tai chi classes are covered, as we also have most of our instructors out of town on vacation. This is actually pretty easy, because it was scheduled a while ago. The tough part is when a wrench is thrown in my perfectly planned schedule. This is what often happens with my personal training and wellness habits. I admit there are times when I have run myself so ragged, it was a detriment to my health! I do not recommend this. When someone tells me they have kids or too much work that prevents them from eating right or working out, I always ask: What is it they always say on the plane? (What? No one listens to the safety talk right?) Well I do, and they say: Put your oxygen mask on before assisting others! This is so true. How can I expect to help my family, cook for O, teach my students, and get work done if I am not taking care of myself? I am basically writing this out to remind myself that it is important to eat, sleep, work out, relax, and enjoy life. So how do I do it? Juggling! I basically make sure that the priorities are always being rotated. (It’s the only juggling I think I’ll ever be able to do)
In tai chi we teach the philosophy of the yin and yang, the balance to life. I try to follow this principle with every little thing. If I am on the computer too much, I set a timer to walk away and get off the screen. If I am eating too many delicious foods, I make sure that I am working it off at kung fu, walking extra on vacation, or making better choices the next day. If I am feeling guilty from eating delicious foods, I remind myself that it is ok, and reiterate to myself that I can enjoy it… and feel good about it. I am sure you will notice by now that I talk about food and eating a lot. Good food brings me joy! So think about what brings you joy, accept it, be thankful for it, and then keep on juggling.
Those who know me, know I am a foodie. What is a foodie? By definition: a person with a particular interest in food; a gourmet. Yes, that’s me! In previous posts I discussed eating around the world and all of the exotic foods I enjoy. In this post, I thought I would get a bit more practical and answer some of the questions I most often get. Other than how do I make my almond cookies, other questions usually revolve around the ‘most important meal of the day’ …breakfast. Most people I know have a love and hate relationship with breakfast. The ones who love it, including me, usually want pancakes, waffles, french toast, or all of the delicious, but not quite so healthy morning choices. O and I were discussing how backwards it is to have those foods first thing in the morning, since they are bound to slow you down. So instead, I made blueberry pancakes the other day from scratch for Brinner…Not that eating it at Brinner is any better, but we are focusing on breakfast ok!?
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a nice Sunday brunch now and then, but logically, we all know eating those delicious treats in the morning are not the best choices. O coaches clients on fitness and wellness, and although he doesn’t meal plan, he teaches the basics: eat more protein in the morning, lots of leafy greens throughout the day, and try to make the ‘best’ decisions that make you function properly. It really isn’t rocket science. We all know what is good for us, we just prefer to have someone tell us it is ok to have fried chicken and waffles in the morning. Well, you can, but if losing weight, building muscle, or staying as healthy as possible is your goal, then choosing fried chicken and waffles probably won’t get you there, and you know it!
It can be really overwhelming to think about making breakfast especially since we have the least time to prepare it. O often suggests his clients ask me about breakfast food ideas. The biggest complaint I get is being tired of eggs. Eggs are the go to breakfast protein. I admit, that is mine too! However, even I get tired of eggs or often don’t have time to make eggs when I’m in a rush. Smoothie? Protein shake? Great choices, but been there done that too.
Here are some ideas for AM protein and the best part is that breakfast is ready to eat in less than 5 minutes! (Caveat: it does take having these items in your fridge ready to go)
Lettuce with smoked salmon and side of fruit — I like to drizzle olive oil, lemon juice, or a homemade organic Sriracha flavored mayo that I have on hand to spruce it up.
Almond butter or hummus on celery sticks — with the almond butter you can add raw cacao nibs and get the healthy tasty version of peanut butter cups (minus the chocolate, minus the peanut butter, minus the sugar and bad fat)
Greek yogurt parfait – add nuts, berries, ground flax seed, chia seeds – get creative and eat it in a half cantaloupe — I personally don’t love cantaloupe, but the “experts” say it is the most nutritious fruit.
Smoked salmon over watercress with avocado — again, top off with your favorite healthy dressings to add flavor
Smoked salmon, cucumber, and greek yogurt wasabi wrapped in seaweed — I make greek yogurt wasabi by just adding a hint of wasabi into it and some lemon juice!
Breakfast doesn’t have to be boring, and it can be ready in less than 5 minutes. I’m basically using this post to hold myself accountable and make sure that I go grocery shopping to have good breakfast choices on hand, so I get my protein in the morning too! I’m sure O would approve.
When people ask me how long I have been teaching, and I say over 25 years, I often get a confused look. Perhaps because I look so young! ha. I wish!
I often think about age and experience and realize those two numbers represent entirely different things. Just because someone is ‘older’, doesn’t make them more experienced in things they haven’t practiced. Just because someone is ‘younger’, doesn’t mean they don’t have experience. Reading those lines back is confusing, but basically… you know, the old saying: don’t judge a book by its cover!
I have the perfect story for this that dates back to… oh maybe 18+ years ago. I was attending the Yee’s Hung Ga tournament in New York, and had brought my students with me. My friend was a male Sifu from Yee’s and we went to meet an uncle of one of my students. When we arrived, the uncle immediately ran over to my friend and shook his hand exclaiming how happy he was to meet his nephew’s Sifu. Embarrassed, my friend said, “No, no, I’m not his Sifu, she is his Sifu.” The uncle did a double take, because as you can imagine this was about 18 years ago, so I looked even younger (lament), and I was a she, not a he!
I always laugh at these situations, and don’t get too offended, because this is the stereotype I have dealt with my whole life. I am really proud that in the Wah Lum system there are several female Sifus and a good number of female kung fu practitioners. My father is always really proud of this fact as well. *Girl power!*
Post instructor certification weekend, I’ve been doing a lot of ‘thinking about the old days’. Perhaps this is because I had 2 students from my earlier demo teams testing together this year. (Matthew Martin of Wah Lum of Raleigh and Hiep Dang of Wah Lum of Portland) It was a double take for me to watch them both testing together after all these years. This was Matt’s 3rd test and Hiep’s 1st test. I cannot believe how quickly time goes by. On top of it all, they were fight partners and teammates for a long time. I never imagined they would both be testing to become a Sifu and that they would even produce students of their own one day. As I don’t have biological children, I imagine this is what a parent feels like when their kids are all grown up! I’ve been through so much with these guys, been to their weddings, been through hard times… and now they have decided to follow the path of becoming a Sifu. They have chosen to propagate and share Wah Lum with others. I am proud.
I am really proud of the growth of the entire Orlando branch of the Wah Lum tree, the students that have studied with Sifu Tu Truong and I at the Temple. Antonio Guerrerio of Wah Lum of Brasil, who has been traveling back and forth to the Temple for the past 20 years. Torsten Landau of Wah Lum Germany, who has been spending his summer training with us for the past 9 years. Last but certainly not least, Oscar Agramonte, my husband who has taken the word partner to another level with being not only my husband, but my partner in Wah Lum. (not an easy task)
I look forward to watching them grow as instructors and meeting their students. I look at all the members of the Wah Lum family and am overwhelmed by the growth of this tree with so many branches. All from the seed that my father planted. He took the teachings of his Master and brought it to the USA to share with the world. I like to remind my students that they are part of something so much bigger than just the classroom they are standing in. Somewhere in the world there are others lining up to ‘bisan‘ and start their kung fu class just as they are. How cool is that?
Some people ask me what my typical day is like? Nothing about my life seems very typical, but I do have a routine. Usually, my routine is filled with the thought of show planning, trip planning, or scheduling for the Temple. However, on the ‘off season’ (who am I kidding, there is never an off season at Wah Lum) I do have some conventional days.
A normal day would be waking up around 8:00am, doing some exercises, making a fabulous breakfast, (have I mentioned I cook?), and then getting started on my ‘work’. A lot of people think all I do is teach kung fu. If it were that simple, I would be a stress free and happy individual. For those of you that own your own business out there, you know how much this entails. Looking at the bigger picture, I also have meetings and collaboration with the other schools in the Wah Lum system. Sometimes this includes traveling to different schools and doing seminars, shows, events, etc.
I could ‘complain’ about all the boring business work I have to do, but instead I thought I would share some of my reflection about the Sifu Test a couple of weeks ago. A lot of people think that the test is just showing your physical capabilities. The test is more than just an evaluation of your skills. Yes, we do a LOT of forms, weaponry, and application, however a deeper part of the test experience is the camaraderie, the philosophy sessions, and spending time learning more about one another.
I highly recommend anyone in the Wah Lum system read the RED philosophy book of translated lectures by Grandmaster Pui Chan. In this book, he reveals the SECRET OF KUNG FU! Just kidding. Well, not really. I’ve read the book several times, and each time I read it I learn something new. Whenever I read about the traditions or the philosophy of kung fu, I take away something new. When I read it in preparation for the test, the main passage that struck me this time, was the definition of a Sifu. Here’s an excerpt:
“It is possible for you to get married and get divorced several times in your life. However, once you become a disciple of your Sifu, the relationship is binding for the rest of your life….We know a lot of incidents in the karate circle where a guy get his black belt, then he leaves the school, has a quarrel with his instructor and open up his own school…. to the Chinese the relationship between a Sifu and his students is binding for the rest of his life. When you become a disciple, you promise to take care of your Sifu for the rest of his life…The same way as you would treat your own parents, that is how delicate and involved the relationship is between them.”
I’ve read this several times over the years, and each time I read it, I am a little sad. This was a lecture from the 70’s, and at that time, my father was just starting to develop advanced students. In the 1970’s, he had only seen examples of other styles that had disrespected their Sifu, and became self proclaimed Grandmasters of their own style. The worst part of the ‘creation of the own style’ isn’t just the disrespect and lack of true understanding of what being a kung fu practitioner is, but that they don’t actually ‘create’ anything. They are still using the teachings of Wah Lum and even doing the exact same forms. Some people think once they learn Wah Lum it is ‘theirs’ and they have the ‘right’ to do with it as they please. Kung fu is personal. Each practitioner has their own relationship with kung fu. While one certainly has the right to develop their kung fu or tries to be a better practitioner and person, one does not have the right to propagate and teach kung fu without permission from their Sifu. My father structured what was already an incredible kung fu system with the ability to grow. However, being as open as he was in teaching all who wanted to learn (many of you have seen this part of his story in the documentary Pui Chan: Kung Fu Pioneer) he also encountered those that would disrespect the system, the teachings, the lineage, and worst of all their Sifu. It is interesting to me that those that leave their Sifu think they know more than their teacher to the extent that they are now the Master! How little they seem to understand about traditional Chinese kung fu! Everyday we recite the teachings on the Wah Lum kung fu altar. I try to live by these principles in the classroom, but also in my daily life. And yet, there are some who just throw it all out the window and try to preach to others what they do not practice. I get so frustrated, and never understood how or why my father would continue to be so open, and how he could continue to share his beloved art after the repeated disappointments by students. He told me, “I know who I am, and what is right; they know who they are.” I am learning to accept this as ‘the way’ and the right way…but the other side of me wants to yell to the world who they are, and what they are. I am still learning. I am still a student. I will keep trying to practice control.
So, what does it mean to be a Sifu? My father always says, it is more than a certification, and more than just having students call you Sifu. I listen to his teachings and I learn more as time goes on. To me, being a Sifu is living by the principles instilled in me by my Sifu, and trying to uphold the true tradition. I will treat my Sifu as my parent and take care of him for the rest of his life. However, I know I am lucky, because I have the best Sifu of all time that actually is my parent.
Disclaimer: Remember, I do not claim to be a writer. Ignore and excuse grammar issues! Thank you!
I’ve been thinking about media a lot lately. Especially after starting this blog and my new Culture Chat Podcast. Anyone who knows me knows that I have always been opposed to ‘social media’. I miss the intimacy of getting a personal call from a friend with big news, instead of an announcement on Facebook. I appreciate the personal touch of a hand written postcard, versus an email, although don’t get me wrong, I love email! I am still reluctant to completely embrace social media, but see it as a necessity. I have been slowly adapting to the changes of the way the majority receives information and have tried to see the positive in this inevitable change. (hence @sifumimichan on twitter and instagram!)
Over the Sifu Test weekend, my social media consultant Lei Ann R. (aka @leiannoffduty), told me something that resonated and helped me open my mind even more. Instead of seeing it as a chore of hoping to get more viewers, likes, or comments; I should just enjoy documenting the journey and capturing the moments. For example over the weekend, sharing on Instagram our moments of laughter, pain, or serious kung fu work.
I am grateful for the feedback I have received in regards to this blog, and I have truly enjoyed my conversations on Culture Chat. The main reason I started the podcast was to find another creative outlet, share others’ stories, and connect with old friends. I wanted to subtitle the podcast ‘the most interesting people you never heard of’. I’ve discovered that everyone has an interesting story to tell, and that we can all learn from each other… or just simply be entertained by true stories.
I’ve enjoyed talking to my friends on Skype or in person, and sharing it through the podcast. The best of both worlds! I’ve been able to reconnect in a traditional way via a modern method. There is a time and place for all the media madness, but I still love direct communication, and don’t think it will be a lost medium. Especially since we are now finding ways to combine the best of both worlds. I spoke to 3 friends this week that I haven’t spoken to in years! Maybe we email here and there or text, but an actual conversation? It’s been forever! Using the podcast to reconnect has been a fun and fulfilling experience, and I am really enjoying it. I am not spending all my time thinking about likes, and ratings (although it does help to have an audience… so please rate and like it! 😉 … instead just reconnecting with friends and having great conversations, while sharing these interesting stories with others.
While I still think social media can be a distraction, I am learning to see how it can connect us in a new way. In short, I try to use it for good, and not evil.
Check out my podcast if you like this blog – you’ll meet some really interesting people from all around the globe!
Today O and I visited a village in the Amazon called Boca de Valeria. I was excited for this stop because it is the first stop that isn’t a metropolitan city. Our tender boat pulled up to a small platform and upon arrival we were greeted by lines of local children who were eagerly waiting to ‘show us their town’.
According to some of my fellow passengers who have been here before (8 times!), the children might not actually live here. I was told they ‘bring’ them in from neighboring areas to help collect tourist donations. Even so, it is hard to imagine that they live in a village much different than Boca de Valeria. As a matter of fact, O and I took a boat ride around the river, where we saw other villages, and we guess they might live there.
Holland America has been stopping here for the past several years, so the locals have come to know what to expect from the tourists. They anxiously hope for US dollars, school supplies, chocolates, or other souvenirs. As soon as you arrive ashore, they gently try to hold your hand and take you around the village, in hopes of obtaining the almighty ‘dollar’. Most of the children have sloths, iguanas, a variety of birds, turtles, and other animals for you to take photos with. You are expected to give them a dollar if you want to hold their animal or take a photo with them. I wasn’t brave enough to hold a sloth (because, well, nature!) but O and I did find a nice family we were happy to give our dollars and chocolates to. I purposely sought out the ones that weren’t at the dock trying to chase after the tourists.
After we mingled with the locals, I put on my famous net hat and trekked through the Amazon jungle! Yes, me, in the jungle. Surprisingly there weren’t
many animals, but there was an endless bounty of trees and forest. We went for about half an hour before deciding to turn around, as the small path began to get overgrown and disappear, so I figured I had seen enough of the inner jungle for the day. I was surprised at the amount of dogs that were running around the area, and that the sound of barking dogs was so prevalent in the Amazon.
Despite the fact that tourism has clearly made an impression on the village, it is still a remote village nonetheless, and I still felt that authenticity of the Amazon around me. We decided to take a small boat ride around the river and were delighted that our driver decided to take us to his village. He took us to his home of Valeria, and we saw the local church and his home. We even met his grandfather. It was a bit of a hike up the hill, but the view at the top was rewarding. It was incredible that they had power lines running throughout the Amazon and even had satellites! Technology in the midst of nature.
As we lined up to take our tender boat back to the ship, I watched the children devouring the chocolates that had been handed out, and immediately noticed all the debris on the floor. Are we doing them favors by bringing our outside gifts? I’m not sure. I can see it is positive for them to make extra money by selling their crafts, but I am skeptical about tourism in remote places. I guess we have to learn to be responsible tourists, and they have to maintain their culture and way of life. It was a lovely day, and I enjoyed being a part of their lives even for a few hours. I admit however, that I was happy to back on board in the air condition and comfort of modern living. The enthusiasm of the locals was fun to be around, but it is evident humans can disrupt and corrupt nature, and I only hope that nature and tradition is stronger than we are. In the meantime, I will keep trying to do my part.
Part 2: Manaus and neighboring villages
The city of Manaus is the largest city in the Amazon with a whopping 2 million people! It was a bustling city, but still primitive in its own way. We took a tour of the river so we could see all the major sites: the meeting of the waters, pink dolphins, a tribal village, and jungle animals.
The meeting of the waters is where the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers come together, but do not mix. There is a definitive line where the waters meet, and it is cool to see.
My father calls it the ying and yang waters, but it is also called the marriage of the waters. You can decide what name you like best.
Next on our riverboat tour, we stopped at a small dock, and didn’t know why we were there. ‘Dolphina’, our driver said, and I was excited to see a pink dolphin swimming in the water. Then a local jumped in the water with a bucket of fish and several dolphins came swimming from the river. Then they invited me into the water to swim with them. I had no bathing suit and was unaware that this opportunity would present itself. In no time, however, I had found myself in the water petting and playing with these friendly creatures. I have swam with dolphins in the Caribbean and Florida, but this was a unique experience because they were out in the wild, with no cages and no restrictions. They of course know where to swim to get ‘free fish’, and the local in the water seemed well acquainted with most of the dolphins swimming nearby. He bravely held the fish in the air for them to jump for, and they snapped at it too, but never bit his fingers. . I was told one of the dolphins was 30 years old, which is like 90 in human years. It was exhilarating to be with them, and I loved this chance encounter.
We also stopped at a tribal village where there were several huts and indigenous
people. They were dressed for the occasion, or rather undressed, in their traditional tribal garb. Although I doubt they wear this on a daily basis, the tribal village was authentic, as we met an American who was living there with a non-profit organization and was helping to dig a well for fresh water. We were fortunate they were there because she was a fantastic translator. We saw authentic dances and songs and even danced with them as a tradition of being welcomed to their village. Learning about the culture and history of the village was fascinating, and O got to dance with the chief’s wife! We bought some hand-crafted souvenirs from them to support the village and really enjoyed our time there. On our way out, the chief’s son quickly noticed my dad’s kung fu pants and said that he also studies kung fu when he goes into the city, but spends most of his time in his village working. He was sad he was unable to practice kung fu often because he doesn’t get a lot of time to leave the village. I told him the philosophy
of kung fu means hard work, and it is obvious that here in his village he is always practicing kung fu, because he is working hard. (Well, the translator told him) He smiled and seemed grateful to learn this philosophy.
Finally, we cruised the smaller nooks of the river and stopped off at different points ashore to observe and meet some jungle animals that are both in the wild and kept by the locals. Tina got her sloth
photo, and we also met an anaconda, alligator, and monkeys.
Leaving the primitive jungle to return to the large city of Manaus reminded us of how diverse the world is. Even within a couple hours of this heavily populated city, there remain people that are still living in the jungle. I was told that if we look out at night from our ship, we could see flames in the jungle, where even more primitive tribes exist. It was sad that in the city it felt a bit ‘unsafe’ due to the high reports of tourist crime, however we met some nice tourist policia that are there to help us get around the city and protect us. Our new friend Candido, was excited to meet English speakers and was eager to practice English with us, and shared his goal to become a diplomat. We saw churches, government buildings,
the less impressive fish market, and even had a night at the opera house with an Amazon choir. I enjoy exploring new cultures, meeting locals, and loved my Amazon experience.
I wanted to take a moment during my day at sea to recap the weekend that I had in Rio de Janeiro. Being in Rio was an eye opening experience. The entire trip, although only a few days, seemed like a week. Probably because we were awake over 27 hours the first day we were there, and it was nonstop as soon as we landed. Upon our arrival into Rio, we quickly met up with the rest of the Wah Lum group and went to lunch. In classic Grandmaster Chan style, he already started to gather fans at the Chinese restaurant we ate at for lunch. Before we knew it, there was a congregation of people waiting to take photos with him. He is a people magnet. After lunch, we went to the school and taught a kung fu fan seminar. The students worked very hard, and we enjoyed teaching them since they were so full of energy and excitement. I am so happy that we now have a full time school in Rio.
I have heard rumors of the poverty, bad economy, and crime in Rio de Janeiro, but do not usually judge anything until I experience it myself. I have seen many movies that portray the favelas and criminal activity, but I used to think they were exaggerated. Although many of the locals informed us of the tough economy, everyone still seemed so happy. Perhaps it was the fact we were there to celebrate an exciting occasion, but it seemed more like it is a part of who they are. I often write about gratitude and positive attitudes in my blog, but I always find it admirable when people in far more challenging situations are happier than we are in the US. The students there are
grateful for having kung fu in their life, they have positive attitudes, and they try to stay optimistic. As I walked around the streets of Rio de Janeiro, I said to O that many of ‘our kids’ back home would feel uncomfortable. It’s a big crowded city, and our suburban kids would likely feel intimidated there. Since we have traveled the world, we weren’t uncomfortable, but we were cautious. Although the weekend was positive, we did witness crime while we were there. Cell phones are often snatched out of your hand in the streets if you aren’t careful; but this is a small crime compared to what occurs on a daily basis. We were extremely cautious; we stayed in groups and always had a local with us. The students were such gracious hosts, and helped keep an eye on us foreigners. We practically had bodyguards with us wherever we went. I’m always extra wary if I don’t speak the language in a foreign country. One of the positive results of submerging myself in other cultures is the feeling of appreciation for the luxuries I have back home. The first time I went to China on my own and stayed in a local village, I came home really appreciating my toilet! Ah, the ‘little’ things.
The camaraderie over the weekend was overwhelming. I watched the students interact and help each other with every detail of the event. From helping each other prep uniforms, warming up, loading equipment to transporting us everywhere and buying us treats. Seeing them in motion was like watching a familiar dance.
(Random share: Speaking of dance…after an incredible Tipica Dinner (typical local meal) I was snatched up by a senior local and danced Samba with him. This was to the ‘old style’ samba 3-piece band. We saw many different bands that night as we walked around, but naturally I gravitated to the traditional one. Our attraction to that area was because of these seniors who obviously were maintaining and reviving the ‘old’ ways. Check out our Forró dance here: samba (note it’s not the samba it is the Forró!)
For a moment it felt like we were back home at one of our shows. The Wah Lum way is strong, and no matter where you are, the spirit of Wah Lum always comes through. It didn’t matter that just outside the theater there were thousands of people getting ready for Carnival. We were preparing for a show, and it was a great show! I’ve already talked about how overwhelmed with pride I was with the show in my previous post, but it really made me realize that kung fu and our Wah Lum family really stretches across borders. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, Wah Lum is Wah Lum, and we are keeping the tradition alive.
PODCAST: O and I discuss our time in Rio and more in my new podcast on Culture Chat. Check it out and let me know what you think.
I spoke with Sifu Antonio a couple of weeks ago, and he told me how excited his students were for the Wah Lum of Brazil Grand Opening. It was a special treat for them that Grandmaster Chan and other Wah Lum Sifus were attending. He was wondering what we would be performing at the show, and I confessed that because of Chinese New Year, we had not planned out our performance. As much as I loved performing growing up, I am actually fine if I do not perform these days. I can’t pinpoint exactly why I don’t often feel motivated to perform, but part of it is that I enjoy seeing the next generation step up. I am excited to see what the youth and newer generations put together creatively and how they execute their forms. Throughout the CNY celebrations I sometimes considered performing if we were short on help, but then I would see the kids really flourish and push themselves to the limit. (we call it CNY pride) So, I opted not to perform during CNY. I learn a lot from observing and it helps me become a better teacher.
Of course it will be an honor to perform at the Grand Opening in Brazil on behalf of the
Temple and to be a part of this great celebration. Sifu Tu will be doing his famous double edge sword, Sifu Oscar a mantis form, and I still hadn’t decided what to do. I will also begrudgingly admit that I often don’t decide what I am doing until I am on stage! Improvisation is a big part of my repertoire. Good or bad, it definitely keeps me on my toes.
Do I recommend this route? Certainly not! My method for training students is to drill and drill and drill their performance routines until it is engrained in their brain. It may seem odd that I do not want them to do as I do, just do as Isay! I worry that makes me a hypocritical teacher, but then I realize I had to create my own system for performance training. Although my father was always there to guide me, I had to do the majority of my performance training on my own. I had to drill and drill and drill until I got it right. I was also fortunate that we had a lot of live shows to gain experience. I’ve spent entire summers performing kung fu shows daily at theme parks. Not many other martial artists have had this experience. Ultimately another reason I have a flare for the dramatic, is I take after my teacher, Grandmaster Pui Chan. No one performs like he does! I have seen masters through the decades from all over the world, and while many have incredible kung fu, none of them have the showmanship like my father. Even the other masters always comment on his performances. In addition, he is always performing. On the streets in Brazil, or on the cruise; he starts talking to anyone who shows interest, and immediately he is on stage. If they are lucky he does some kung fu moves for them too. Through these experiences, I learned the art of performing, and
not just the art of kung fu. They really are 2 different animals! (I never had animals growing up, except for the fish at the Temple, but they hardly count as pets right?)
My students are fortunate that I developed a system for producing entertaining shows. I don’t often compliment myself, but I do believe I can put on an exciting show. Instead of having to discover these techniques on their own, I am there to guide them and essentially give them short cuts. Some might say it isn’t good for them, and that they should discover things on their own, but then I see them perform and realize they are much better performers at this stage of their training than I was. In having to figure it out on my own, my progress was slow. My hopes for my students are for them to surpass me by trillions and gazillions! In order to do this, I combine my experiences to give them what I hope is the best system of training for their progress and growth. Although I have been doing this a long time, I am still learning. I am pleased that the crowd is always happy at our shows, and my goal is to always improve and challenge myself.
Watching the kung fu show in Rio de Janeiro that was led by Sifu Antonio was such an inspiration. I was thrilled the moment they stepped on stage. The music, the uniforms, and the performance resembled shows I have produced in the past. I was so happy to see that this has carried over all the way in Brazil! Sifu Antonio and his students captured the essence of my Wah Lum kung fu performance style, and it was excellently executed! Kudos to everyone who performed!
It is such a unique thing to realize that all over the world, Wah Lum students are doing the same classes we are doing at the Temple, and now to see them perform the same, was a special moment for me. It makes me unbelievably proud, and it was pleasure to share the stage with my Wah Lum of Brazil family. Congrats again to Sifu Antonio on a successful grand opening and for all of the hard work these past 20 years to make the school what it is today.
Although kung fu is a creative outlet, I often miss the career path I dabbled in years ago in acting and stunt work for film. I miss the work, and it shows through some of my past projects like Pui Chan: Kung Fu Pioneer and Journey to the West (right).
I was told by my partner in crime, O, that it was a good idea to start a blog. O said that the life I lead is anything but typical, and that sharing the nuances of my day to day might be interesting to people.
It is my belief that if you say you are going to do something out loud to another person, it is more likely you will get it done. So I am hoping that you will help hold me accountable to some of the projects I hope to accomplish this year. I have received gracious feedback on Kung Fu POD, and I am hoping to film some new episodes.
As a matter of fact we have a new one out this month, so please subscribe and check it out. I am also hoping to launch an audio podcast, which will be a bit of a departure from my usual Wah Lum and kung fu related subjects. I’d like to delve into different subcultures that I am passionate about and chat with experts in those areas. (comic books, film, music, food, other cultures and traditions, etc.) Of course there will be some martial arts episodes, but I am hoping to explore new cultures and subcultures too. The name of the podcast is Culture Chat. Please listen and don’t be too critical, since this is all fairly new for me. I know so many interesting and knowledgable people, and I felt they should share their stories and wisdom with others. The first few episodes have already been recorded, so I am hoping to post some of them soon. When I get back from Brazil I will be working on getting it on iTunes.
During my travels in Brazil, I plan to continue to write this blog, and also work on the Culture Chat podcast. So if you give it a chance, I think you’ll enjoy the chats. I am also hoping you will hold me accountable to getting it done! I am always interested in meeting new people from different cultures, so reach out and say hello and let me know if you would like to have a chat on my podcast! Also, let me know what other subcultures you are interested in hearing about in the comment box below or on Twitter or Instagram.
SINCE THIS WAS PUBLISHED: I have an update! I am already LIVE on iTunes and Google Play!
Please SUBSCRIBE on iTunes my podcast and rate it! I would love to hear feedback and thoughts on my current podcasts. Thank you!
One of the earliest memories I have of getting on a plane was when I was going to Toronto to visit my family as a young child. I think it was on Eastern airlines. Anyone remember them? I believe the flight was delayed, it was a long drawn out day, and I was really tired. Thank goodness for modern day travel; where flights are always on time, the seats are comfortable, and the food is fantastic. Right? Not so much. It’s kind of disappointing that we haven’t really made progress with travel in the comparison of going from the steam boat to flying. I guess I’m asking for too much. I am often guilty of asking for too much, but I feel like traveling is sometimes such a chore, it deters people from exploring the world. Once you can get past the travel woes of TSA lines, luggage costs, and grumpy airport people, it is totally worth it. Getting the TSA pre-check has helped immensely in eliminating long lines at the airport, and careful packing can curb being overweight and more importantly over packing. I always seem to gravitate toward giving advice on organization and am stopping myself from doing so now (although, get these packing cubes, they are great!). Ok, don’t worry, I am not going to get into the nitty gritty of packing in this post.
The reason I decided to write a post today was to share some of the thoughts running through my head as I pack and prep for my trip. It would be easy to get caught up in the negative parts of traveling, and get grumpy about it, but that would be ridiculous. It is ridiculous, because I should be nothing but appreciative for this unbelievable opportunity! This is beyond a cup half full or half empty scenario. It’s more like, I am lucky I even have a cup! It’s ok to be a little grumpy about some of life’s inconveniences, but I try to use gratitude as my reminder to ‘kick me out’ of any grumpiness. I used to write in this 5 minute journal. I finished it, and haven’t been diligent to get back into it, but I feel it is an exercise everyone can benefit from. It’s a simple exercise, and you don’t have to buy the official journal to do it, any notebook will do.
Write 3 things you are grateful for today. It can be as simple as the sun is shining, or as meaningful as your health.
What 3 things would make today great? Again, you can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. There is no right or wrong.
Daily affirmations. I am… (I am a tiger, climbing up a mountain… and why not? Usually I write something like: I am healthy, happy, and will do my best to help others today.)
At the end of the day, you write 3 amazing things that happened, and how could I have made today better? (I usually am patting myself on the back if I ate a good meal, got good sleep, or spent time with someone I care about. How lucky am I? Every day in my life is amazing!)
It might take a little longer than 5 minutes, but I think it is a valuable exercise that helps me see beyond any of my excuses I make myself or petty inconveniences. I believe gratitude can solve most of life’s problems. Whenever I am feeling grumpy (more often than I like), I try to take a moment to think what I can be grateful for. Today, I am grateful for all of you who are reading! Thanks for supporting and taking a moment out of your day. What do you do for daily exercise?
I can’t believe my Brazil trip is already around the corner. This is the longest trip I have taken at 27 days in total! 24 of those days will be spent on the cruise ship. Some people think we are crazy for taking such a long cruise, but as I have mentioned before, I love being at sea. Besides, we will be on land every couple of days as we sail from Rio de Janeiro to Florida. Our itinerary includes many cities in Brazil, including sailing the Amazon River. So how do I prepare for such a trip? By making a list of course. I may have mentioned once or several times that I like organization and planning. I make lists for everything. However, I don’t just make lists, I make templates. O always tells me that I could teach an organizational course on efficiency. I don’t know if I’m that efficient, but I thought I would take this opportunity to share a little about my process. (some may call it obsessive, but I think it’s completely normal) Since I’m going to Brazil, I thought I would share my trip planning process for this trip.
I open my the app on my iPhone that contains lists.
I look at my lists and there has already been one created!
Yes, my lists magically appear because of the fairy dust that I sprinkle on my phone every night before going to sleep. Ok, not really. Anytime I go on a trip, I make a ‘list’. If the trip is something that can be duplicated, I make it a template and I reuse the list. I started this process back before I had a computer. I started this on notepads, then when technology was at my disposal, I used Excel. Now, I have moved on to the iPhone App Packing Pro
Each time I go on a trip, if I forget something I make sure to add it to my template. My travel templates include trips for weekends, 1 or 2 week cruises, or work trips. Making the list for this trip is the first time in a while I have had to create a new list. However, I still did not need to start from scratch. I simply used the longest template I had and then added to it any ‘extras’ I needed. For this trip I have made sure to include extra mosquito protection! If you’ve been reading my blogs, you know my relationship with nature, and I am literally going to be in the jungle! Not to worry, I have this to protect me. (left)
This process saves time, and ensures that I have everything I need for my trip. I’m sure many of you are already expert list makers, and are even more advanced packing pros. However, I use this same ‘system’ for everything. Shopping, Wah Lum events or tournaments, kung fu meetings and schedules, etc. I create a master template and then when needed, I update the template.
For groceries, I have recipe lists that upload into the shopping list, so I don’t forget any ingredients. And yes, I often meal plan too, so I have all the food I need for the week. (hey, don’t judge. I get home after 9pm and still cook O a home cooked meal every day!)
I have to dedicate a little extra time in the beginning, but it saves me a lot of time in the long run! I’d love to hear how you plan and prep, so always feel free to leave a comment or suggestions below.
Note: I’ve included links to some of the apps I use. Hope they help!
O and I always talk about how lucky we are to have traveled the world. We laugh because one of the first questions I asked him was if he had a passport. I told him, he was going to need one immediately! Sure enough a few months later we were in Locarno, Switzerland.
It’s been nonstop ever since. For our 10th wedding anniversary I got us a push pin map so that we could track our travels.
It’s amazing to see how many places we’ve been, but more so how many we haven’t. The world is so vast and I find it incredible how many places we have ‘yet to explore’ when I stop to think about it.
Our family started cruising when I was about 7 years old. I like cruising, but not because of the buffets and the cheesy cruise ship entertainment, but because I am truly disconnected from work. I ‘could’ connect to the internet, but at $5 a minute? NO thanks! I completely disconnect from my trusty iPhone and being at sea allows me to truly relax. Relaxation is something I have a hard time doing ‘on land’.
For me, seeing different countries involves more than going to the iconic landmarks and tourist spots. I always start my research by finding where the best places are to eat local food. In doing this, I get to meet local people and truly immerse myself in the culture. I love eating. O really loves eating. I usually organize my own food tour that is centered around trying the best food in the area. I tend to get a little crazy with research (by now you know I like planning), so sometimes it takes me months to finally nail down the tour, but once I do, the reward is in our bellies. So I wrote today’s post with the intent to share only a few of my favorite foods we have eaten along the way. (and perhaps make you hungry) Happy eating everyone! Feel free to share some of your favorite foods and leave a comment below.
Note: Yes, that helium balloon was eatable at Alinea in Chicago. That was by far one of the most amazing dining experiences I ever had. Maybe it deserves its very own food blog one day!
Chinese New Year is almost over, so what is next on the Wah Lum calendar? It turns out 2017 is quite a busy year. I am a planner. I like organization. I like to schedule in advance, because I get so busy throughout the year. I’ve always been this way, even as a child. My parents on the other hand… are very spontaneous. My father is famous for saying, ‘OK, we go now!’. (just ask anyone who’s been around for a day and they’ve probably seen him running around the Temple in fast forward) Last year, I looked at the 2017 calendar and knew what to expect.
1st Quarter: CNY!
2nd Quarter: This year is the big Sifu Test, yes we Sifus also have to test! Wah Lum Sifus have to certify every 3 years to maintain the standard of the system. More on this in the future.
3rd Quarter: This is usually tournament and training season for students.
4th Quarter: Temple anniversary events and holidays…AND I have my big trip to Antarctica planned from 3 years ago! I’m psyched.
We also planned out events for 2018: Brazil and Germany Wah Lum Grand Openings and the next China trip.
However, late last year, my parents decided now is as good a time as any to have Brazil’s grand opening event, so we called Sifu Antonio in Rio de Janeiro and told him the ‘good news’. Surprise! Would you like to have your grand opening in February? Why the change? I told him that Sigung and Simu are adverse to flying now, but they found a cruise from Rio to Orlando, so you can have your event in February if you like. Sounds good? Sifu Antonio graciously accepted and was even excited that his grand opening was imminent, and started scrambling in fast forward. So, the Chan family will be going on a 24 day retreat to study kung fu, vacation, and philosophize together in February.
This past January, my parents were discussing the European cruise they are going on in October. They came up with the idea that since they will already be in Germany, why not have the grand opening for Germany then? So I made a very similar phone call to Sifu Torsten that I made to Antonio. Guess what? Surprise your grand opening might now be in October of 2017 if you agree… Sifu Torsten graciously accepted and is now scrambling in fast forward too.
We sometimes call this the Wah Lum Way. We plan, but ultimately, when my father says, “OK we go now!” Well, we go now. In Wah Lum, moving in fast forward is sometimes a requirement, and learning to be flexible is beyond just the physicality of doing the splits.
Who am I to complain? I’m going to South America, Europe, and Antarctica all in one year! 2017 had a good plan, but now has an even better plan. Being a part of the Wah Lum family means moving in fast forward and sometimes having to drop everything and ‘go now’, but at least we know that we are going places.
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We are almost finished with the shows for Chinese New Year (CNY). It’s hard to believe in 2 days we did over 30 performances. I’m not sure why I am always surprised, because this has been our tradition… this is our culture. I only know how to celebrate CNY one way: with lion dancing, kung fu shows, and firecrackers. Lots of firecrackers.
When I was younger and the Temple would go out to perform, we had a lot less participants, which meant a lot more kung fu for the few of us that performed. It didn’t matter. We loved it. As much of a ‘mysophobe’ as I am, CNY was one time I didn’t mind the germs or dirt. Rolling in firecracker dust on the parking lot floor was expected. Exciting even! What is CNY without hearing the drums play over and over in your head before you go to sleep, or coming home and finding firecracker remnants in your hair? No cuts or scrapes? That just means you didn’t celebrate properly.
Ask any performer what the shower at the end of CNY day 1 is like, and they will all tell you the same story. You watch the dirt literally go down the drain, you feel the burn from scrapes you didn’t know you had, you feel amazing to be under the warm water, and could probably fall asleep right there in the shower. That is the essence of CNY. The lunar calendar marks the ‘new year’ for us, a new beginning. We wash away the dirt and negativity from the past, recognize the hardships that will soon be in the past, we embrace the warmth of the new beginning, and we feel the challenges of being tired from hard work… But then we get up and do it again.
I remember telling my students this year after the floor was wet from the rain, “you don’t need to split and roll on the ground.” Sure enough, they get out there and did the split and rolled around on the ground. At first I wondered why they are doing it, I just told them they didn’t need to do it! Why are they getting all dirty? Then I remember how I was at their age, and what I did as a young performer. The excitement of the shows, the adrenalin, and the fun of just getting messy for CNY. Why would I try to stop it?
Today I did something I never do. I went outside to pick starfruit from the tree outside of my house. I do not consider myself to be overly girly, but I am not what one would consider an ‘outdoor’ person. I have allergies, I don’t like insects, and mosquitos are attracted to me like honey to the bees. I decided to make a fruit basket as a gift, and I thought fresh starfruit from my tree would be a great addition.
When I went outside (ugh), I started using the nifty bamboo stick tool my father made to reach all the high starfruit. I was suddenly reminded of the day the tree was planted. When I was around 9 years old, my father rushed into the house, and told me to come outside to see the tree that would bear fresh starfruit. He said, “You are going to be so happy, this tree will have a lot of fruit. You really likey.” I quickly put my shoes on, as I was ready to eat some fruit! (I loved fruit growing up, and still do) I stepped outside and saw nothing except a little stick in the ground with some branches and a little leaf. I said, “Where’s the fruit?” He said excitedly, “In 10 years you are going to be really happy. You 100% have a lot of fruit.” I grumbled and went back in the house. 10 years? How was I supposed to wait 10 years for a piece of fruit? Why not go to the grocery store and get it NOW? Why wait? I was an impatient child, and had much to learn. 10 years quickly passed, and I had forgotten about the tree. (again, not an outdoors person, so not once had I watered that tree) The tree did bear fruit, and so much in fact, that we always had an abundance of starfruit almost year round. Fast forward 30 years later, and here I am gathering fruit from that same tree today.
My father wakes up before the sun rises and starts his day by going to the Wah Lum Temple to light incense to honor his ancestors. After this ritual, he spends several hours nurturing his plants and tending to his fish. This is all a part of his routine, but it is much more than just simple chores. He is constantly planning for the future, planting seeds today, for the fruit for tomorrow. My father, a true master, has the foresight to know how fruitful and abundant a tree can be with consistent care and hard work. I do not have a green thumb, so I have a lot to learn before attempting to plant a new tree. However, I will continue to nurture the trees that my father has planted, and I will continue the traditions he began. I will also light incense to honor my ancestors, and I will try to practice hard work and patience (foh gee diu jin) every day during every task no matter how big or small.
DISCLAIMER: I was waiting to ‘fix’ this post and improve it, but then I realized I would never post it if I waited for it to be ‘perfect’. I do not consider myself to be a pro blogger or a distinguished writer. I have some fond memories of my Wah Lum journey that I simply would like to share. I came to the realization that I’ve been fortunate to lead an interesting (and unconventional) life to say the least, and I’ve been asked to share. I consider myself to be a private person, but sharing positive energy when there is so much negativity feels right. I hope you are at the very least entertained. So I intend to share my stories either by blog, vlog, or podcast. (all coming soon) Please follow, like, subscribe or whatever the term is!