Birthdays!

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

Normandy American Cemetery
Normandy American Cemetery

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.

germany
Grand Opening in Germany

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?

Pretty darn lucky.

 

 

 

Juggling

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. single whipI 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.

2017 Test Weekend
Matt, Hiep, Torsten, Oscar

The kids are all grown up!

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!

2017-sifu-weekend-151
2017 Test Weekend – Lady Sifus
lady
2008 Test Weekend – Lady Sifus

 

 

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?

Torsten, Matt, Hiep, Antonio
Torsten, Matt, Hiep, Antonio

 

 

cane-vs-spear_seq2d

What is a Sifu?

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!

12182525_950017715035071_9089717322648412409_o

The Butterfly, the Hurricane, and the Cow Hands

Sifu Antonio’s wife, Suelen told me that the students requested that for the grand opening show in Brazil, I do at least 1 butterfly kick.  It seems to be my signature move.  It makes me laugh because the very few films I have worked on always involve this movement. Mulan, Mortal Kombat Conquest, etc.

12182525_950017715035071_9089717322648412409_o

Growing up I always called the butterfly kick the hurricane kick.  Why? My father called it hurricane, so it was the hurricane kick.  Fast forward to when I was 16 and trying to learn Cantonese.  I started dissecting words and expanding my vocabulary.  The Chinese for the movement I was so famous for was Wu-dip-tui, which translates to… Butterfly kick.  What!?! For 16 years of my life I called it hurricane and now it’s a butterfly?  I was so frustrated!  Why would my father call it hurricane?  I am not sure really, but the tornado kick in Chinese is a jumping crescent kick, so I am guessing he confused tornado, hurricane, and then the whole thing got jumbled.  Either way, it was crazy to have that discovery after so many years.  I also have an affinity for the butterfly kick, because it was a move I absolutely could NOT do.  I could do gymnastic aerials before I could do the butterfly kick.  So what did I do?  I practiced and did thousands of them.  Maybe 10,000 (DYK: 10,000 is the number of hours for mastery according to Malcolm Galdwell, but before that book came out the number of days for mastery according to the Wah Lum Handbook states… you guessed it, 10,000!)

That’s my short story…

Oh, wait. Cow hands.  You are probably wondering why I have cow hands in my title.  My mom is the chief tai chi instructor at the Temple. She is a master of tai chi and has been studying extensively for decades.  Around the same time of my butterfly epiphany, she also had one of her own.  She would teach the students cow hands, because that is what my father taught her.  One day she decided to print out all of the moves of the form for everyone and translated the Chinese.  The Chinese translation for our ‘cow hands’ was actually cloud hands!  My father had been pronouncing it cow hands, but meant cloud hands.  Ah, communication.  So much fun! I can only imagine how many things have been lost in translation, or pronunciation through the years.

Oh, wait, wait.  Did anyone get my title comparison?  Hint: any C.S. Lewis fans out there?

16997760_806955839458762_2108196039501743346_n

The Rio 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.

img_2240I 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

img_2274
The beach!

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.

img_2315
Carnival Time!

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!)

img_2314
Carnival performer

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.

Pre-show performer selfie
Pre-show performer selfie
culture-chat-with-mimi-chan-concept-3m

Introducing… Culture Chat

drama

Dramatic? Me???

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!
Listen on Google Play Music