A day in the life of Grandmaster Chan

img_1089-2O 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.

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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.

 

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Sifu Seminar

Test Prep

Every 3 years all Wah Lum instructors take the Sifu test, even if they have previously certified.  Why?  Standards.  In order to maintain the highest standards and quality of instruction, we are all required to test in front of Grandmaster Chan and our peers.  Yes, even I have to test!  This weekend, my kung fu brothers and I will be testing in front of Grandmaster Chan to ensure that we are teaching in accordance with the high standard of the Wah Lum System.  In 1 week, all of the instructors from around the world will be coming to the Temple and will be doing the same.  Some instructors will be testing for the first time, while for others it may be there 10th test!  For those of you who are good at math, that is at least 30 years in the system as a Sifu!  Why would we require someone who has been in the system for 30 years to test?  Standards.

Personally, I enjoy the test experience and use it to hold myself accountable.  I speak to my kung fu brothers often, and believe we all feel the same.  There is no pressure from Grandmaster Chan, but rather for us to hold ourselves accountable, to continue learning, and to be a student first.  Each instructor who intends to certify writes Grandmaster Chan a letter of intent.  In my letter, I outlined the reasons I intend to test.  Beyond being certified to teach, I strive to constantly learn and improve.  It keeps me humbled, helps me be a better teacher, and reminds me that I am a student first.  As many school owners will tell you, it is a treat to be a student again.  As a Sifu, you spend most of your time attending to your students needs, and our own training becomes second priority.  Although being a teacher is fulfilling in so many ways, it is important for me to continuously learn and be challenged.  Believe me,  the Sifu test is a challenge.  The test lasts 3 full days, and covers everything in the Wah Lum System.  We test forms, weapons, self defense, applications, philosophy, and teaching methods.  It is also like a family reunion for us, and a wonderful weekend of camaraderie.  I truly look forward to it every 3 years, and wish we could do it more often.  Wah Lum is one of the few kung fu systems that has instructor certification every three years, and I feel we are stronger for it.  Those that do not renew their certification are no longer licensed or sanctioned to teach Wah Lum.  Why? Standards.  If an instructor does not maintain the Wah Lum standard, we do not feel they are qualified to continue representing the style.  Grandmaster Chan has set high standards, but I feel that we should strive to always improve.  (see full listing of qualified instructors here)

How does a Sifu prepare for a test?  The same way a student does.  Practice!  As the test is only every 3 years, we have 3 years to prepare.  I am not certain everyone uses the 3 years for test prep, but I can tell you that one year out, they have already begun preparing.  Many instructors start coming to the Temple for private training… and to get away from their students ;).  Since the instructors come to the Temple to do their reviews, that means the Sifu Tu and I always have to be ready.  Although we are ‘ready’ year round, we still value our own training time to

Sifu Seminar
Sifu Seminar

work on our personal training growth and goals.  We also teach a seminar during the test weekend.   Last year it was an honor for me to teach the seminar.  I taught an advanced form to the group (it has my signature move: the butterfly), and although it was a lot of fun, it was exhausting after three 12 hour days of kung fu!

It is challenging for me to get ‘my time’ being a student.  So I end up going on a 27 day trip to train! Sometimes it seems like literally leaving the country is the only way I am able to practice my kung fu.  I will leave my test prep training tips for a future Kung Fu POD episode, if anyone is interested let me know.  In the meantime, I have to go prep for my test.  Wish me luck!

 

 

Performance Training

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

Sifu Tu with the double edge sword
Sifu Tu with the double edge sword

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 I say!  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 fish-pondshows 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. img_2316The 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!

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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.

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Introducing… Culture Chat

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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

 

Maybe we will meet these dragons at Carnival.

What’s Next?

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.

Maybe we will meet these dragons at Carnival.
Maybe we will meet these dragons at Carnival.

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.

Fierce Lucy does the splits at CNY
Fierce Lucy does the splits at CNY

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.

Thanks to all of you who have subscribed – please subscribe below if you would like to be updated when a new post comes out!  I’d also love to know what else you would like to hear about. Scroll alllllll the way down to subscribe and leave a comment.

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Lions and Firecrackers and Kung fu, Oh My!

We are almost  finished with the shows for Chinese New Year (CNY).  It’s hard to believe in 2 days we didcny 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 girlsdirt 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.

This is me running into the lion tail this year!

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?

It’s part of the tradition, part of the culture.

 

 

Photos: Courtesy Karl Simpson and Hao Nguyen

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Good fruit comes to those who wait!

 

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 img_1539stepped 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 Control, patiencemore 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!