Part of the Nam Yi Dong Ji Kerng song is translated as "we should be pillars of society." Like that is part of the Kung Fu ethical way of life. But what is a Pillar of society? Someone reached out to me to find out who the Kung Fu Masters in Boston were. The "real" ones, with strong lineage and who were pillars of Society.
I used to think in these terms but I have moved so far away from Lineage, being separated from my own, and have been questioning society around me so much that I actually gave a bunch of names of people that A) weren't me and B) weren't my own Sifu.
But here is my argument why both me and My Sifu would fit into that category, but also why I didn't give our names at first.
I would have to say that the Martial Arts that are the best at Lineage are the Japanese ones. Yeah maybe they originate in China, but in terms of carrying around a scroll that actually has all your stuff written down like Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai, I just can't see Chinese Martial arts doing that. Definitely not the South. Let's take Choi Lei Fut for example. It's already a mixed system. "Not pure" says it right in the name.
My Sifu was doing Hung Bak Choi in the village or Hung Kuen, Bak Hok, Bak Mei, and Choi Lei Fut... again super mixed. And he learned it organically in the village. There was Wing Chun in there too, and Northern Shaolin. Later he encountered two Sifus (both of White Crane but two separate Styles of White Crane that coincidentally had the same name) and that's why we call it Woo Ching White Crane. Woo Ching is his name. So you could say yeah his lineage starts with him, but draws from many lineages. But there isn't like a piece of paper tracing it;s way back to Ngauk Fei Like Tsing Yi claims. Frankly, while studying, I liked that the lineage was one generation away from me and I could already see bam!, My Sifu and his incredible capabilities instead of having to reach back centuries. At the same time, some of the forms told the stories of past generals like Kwan Gung..... But I guarantee you that Kwan Gung did not do Kwan Gung do right?
As for myself, I am somewhat divorced from my own lineage and have been seeking to reinvent myself. In fact I was talking to my Si Hing about that, about the differences between being traditional versus Non traditional and the pros and cons of both. I totally am planning some weird stuff for the future of my Kung Fu. Like mixing Lion Dance, Fighting forms... and Salsa and maybe some weird Eagle Dance. (I'm making the eagle in my basement.)
But I think I can only feel comfortable doing this because I slept in a Kung Fu school and went back to China and taught some of the older generations who were disconnected from their Sifu when he came to the states. I have the confidence to do weird stuff, because I only did it the way my Sifu told me to do it for so long.
But Lineage is still important, even for crazy made up stuff. So I decided to create fiction. Like if I could make a Star Wars plot and teach Jedi Kung Fu. That would be awesome, especially if my book swere to become a hit. Then I could support a vast network of schools. Shoot if Quidditch can have their own National league... I think I can have a Fantasy Kung Fu Fandom that does my Kung Fu. It would be cheaper for everyone too.
B) Pillars of Society
For some reason, because I have never been rich I equate this with being financially successful. But actually My Sifu worked in the community both in China and the States for decades. What was accomplished? Well we promoted the art and supported the community. I feel that others have more titles. Business owners and State Reps. I look to them as Pillars. But then I realized I am not only under selling my Sifu, who worked with many activists and organizers... but I also underselling myself. Grace would say, "Do something with more impact!" I am working on it...I'm not saying I couldn't do more... but I am as good a pillar as anyone else you could say. I mean okay people with schools and more numbers have more name and I guess have done more. But in the middle of the night I woke up thinking, "Haven't I been teaching and pushing hard to spread Kung Fu in new creative ways through various organizations in Chinatown for over a decade? I mean look at this blog? Haven't I been working to connect all the Sifus in some way? Maybe I haven't been successful. Maybe I will end up feeling like, "Do hap yut cherng hong." that I ended up with one large emptiness. But couldn't you say that about anyone? Even if they become President?
A lot of Sifus are very important and have done great work. I am just saying I was surprised that I did not automatically think of myself when pushing forth a candidate for this article. I mean after I have stood next to so many politicians and taught so many classes for free with activism in mind... yes I am not where I want to be. But am I insignificant?
Who was a pillar of society?
Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Jesus.....
But these people were not pillar by themselves. They were pillars because of the network that they worked in and perhaps it isn't the pillar that holds up the society but the society that holds up the pillar.
Om any case, I gave a lot of names of Sifus, but I feel that if I have learned one thing from collecting stories it is that everyone has a special relationship with their Sifu. Everyone feels that their Sifu was a pillar of society or was special, or that their lineage was important to them. Either that or they felt gypped in some way when their Sifu ended up being human instead of a god. Actually 99% of these stories I haven't written down. And that is why many times to tell the truth I move into fiction. So just like I mentioned in part A, being a Pillar of society, for me, ends up being more about the person that says the person is a pillar. I could make virtually anyone I have interviewed into some sort of Chinatown God or Saint. And I wouldn't be lying. Look at the gods and saints that are actually worshiped. From Kuan Yin to Mary... in the end, they are all just people. The deification happens after death by the story teller. That is why I have elected to be that story teller.
I feel that Martial Artists, given what they practice, sometimes focus Too much on reality. This sounds crazy, but what I am saying is, they try and always justify their art as being for a "real fight" when sometimes they should just give it a rest. I mean there is secret Kung Fu. And I respect the keeping of certain secrets. But it's not the same as nuclear secrets right?
Even Chun Chi Huang won his battles, not so much because of training people in secret Kung Fu, but by mass producing a then already 200 years old technology, (the leg loading crossbow) which made it possible for any farmer, genius or idiot, who hand't picked up a cross bow before, to load the 200 pound draw weighted weapon and fire all at once with fairly decent accuracy.
I totally wanted to learn real Kung Fu when I was learning and wanted to learn how to fight. But teaching, I keep on running into problems with that. Complaints from parents and teachers... I'm totally moving more toward "dance." I mean I keep everything Martial because that's where I am at, that is my basis, But I guess I no longer care about "realness" at all. I know people think I'm not a real Sifu, what with my home made animal heads and my Kung Fu wheels on the bus. The realness is just in the GUNG, presence, and trace like state of mind not in the sequence of moves. (of course I end up falling back on the sequence of moves when I am tired and have to go on autopilot so it becomes very obvious to anyone that knows, that I was formally trained for a very long time. But if I meet someone that is like self taught or whatever and really energetic.. I don't knock them at all. I give them mad love and support. I love the people who are real traditional. But I don't knock the non traditional, provided it is good. And even if it's not, there is always something to learn or take away from it. Organization skills, marketing abilities, something is positive there. So why call it "fake."
In fact, I find more often than not nowadays, that I am taking advice from my students. Because if my students are older than me, they have a lot of experience in life. So I might be teaching them Kung Fu moves. But in terms of philosophy and life experience... I bow to them.
If my students are children.. I totally try to understand their mindset every time they question and challenge me, and I am constantly learning from them as well.
After all, in this day and age, I feel like the quickest way to spread an idea or a Kung Fu skill... is to make it accessible, and have the thing go viral. I feel like the complicated forms are for the teachers.... but for the masses, it should be a few things, some philosophy, and a way of being and BAM! Zen! instant understanding. That's it. And this is from someone who still regularly does the complicated forms. Ask me now, I can bust one out right here in the kitchen or on a stage. But that doesn't mean I think that everyone needs to spend so much time learning that.
I guess a lot of Kung Fu Americans are trying to reach back to China and the meta-narrative of the Chinese lineage and the Chinese Master.
I did that already... and I've been trying to take something Chinese, and really Americanize it, and not just with the Anglo culture, but with the many cultures that are around. And that's nothing new either. After all part of My Sifu's Kung Fu is from Tibet too. And like I started out the post saying, there has been a lot of mixing all along. In fact Shaolin Temple itself was one big mixing pot of Chinese Martial Arts. People misunderstand that. Before the Kung Fu systems came out of Shaolin... there were systems that went in.
Anyway, I don't know if other people would qualify me to be some pillar of society. I know it is kind of ridiculous for me to make that claim myself. But if it isn't who I am yet... it is who I aim to be. But if I am successful it is totally because of all the great people I have met throughout my life and I think especially within the past year connecting and learning from the Chinatown Community through the blog. If I am not a pillar of society, from now on I am going to pretend that I am until I am. "Fake it till I make it."