My Kung Fu Journey – The Beginning
In Chinese tradition, the naturally strong children are the ones groomed to manage the family business. What the Chinese call the classic story is of a sickly child whom parents will send to the nearest kung fu school to get healthier. According to the kung fu masters, they tell those who study in the kwoons (kung fu place of practice) that they have come to become more than healthy – to become Super Men! There they will learn the wisdom of the ages, for they have become keepers of an ancient tradition that will make them like immortals.
I was the only child for 11 years and was thin and sickly. My good father would do anything like enroll me in swimming, even go to the beach and take a ride boats – for he thought staying near the ocean would make me eat and improve my appetite. He enrolled me in swimming, art lessons during the summer school break, anything that would make me stronger. And because I was the sickly child, he and my mother sent me to learn kung fu.
I was so sick that whenever my cousins, a rowdy bunch of 4 boys, would come over to play, for sure I would have fever the next day. My body could not take it! Later on, a cousin of mine came to live with us and he was a welcome addition for he loved to eat. This hopefully would make me want to eat too. For it took 4-5 hours for me to eat my lunch. It started at 11 a.m. then a complete story had to be told for every spoonful that I ate. We had maids that would just quit because they ran out of stories every time. They had told me the story of their lives, their parents’, and even their grandparents’ adventures.
1st Brush with Kung Fu:
Bruce Lee became a hit and I became a fan, jumping around, kicking leaves and fruits of small trees in our neighborhood. One day in my grandmother’s house which was just beside mine was a special guest. He was a Holy Man who saw me jumping around with kicks and punches. He found it amusing but he said I had an affinity for these arts. Little did I know this man had great Kung Fu skills. His father was a chief of police in China where he grew up. He also became a cop in L.A. He told me he learned kung fu in China and showed me some flashy moves. I was impressed! But he said he had enough of death, crimes, and the low life. He said his turning point was when he was called to check on a report that brought him to a house where a person was dead for a long time that the neighbors reported the stink of the dead. He just had enough and he became a priest. So he was in missions now and was only on a visit and could not teach me.
The Good Priest said, “Let me take you to someone who can teach you the real thing.” He said, “I have heard there is a real Master here and I will bring you to him. I have heard of him and he is in the Taoist Temple here in Cebu.” We went to the temple and saw the old man. They talked in Chinese and at the end of their conversation the priest told me the Master now accepted me as a student. “Let’s hope you can come and learn from him.” But all that remained just talk. After all, it was going to be difficult for me at that age to just go out on my own and climb Beverly Hills in Cebu where the Taoist Temple was located. Many years passed and nothing happened.
2nd Brush with Kung Fu:
In High School there was a classmate who was admired by everyone. He was kind, did not tease other classmates, was well behaved and had something about him. Everybody knew he was a “Kung Fu boy”. As is usual with Kung Fu people, they sometimes practice their hand or leg movements and do their stances. It makes them look weird, maybe different. But cool. We became friends after I was involved in a big fight: he and my nerdy friends were the only ones left unscathed with me.
Leroy Garciano was his name, a very nice person whom I admired. After a lot of prodding (from me) Leroy said, “OK, I‘ll go to your house on Saturday morning and teach you.” I could not sleep the night before, I was so excited! Leroy arrives and starts on his fighting stance: he wanted to fight! I said, “I want to learn and not to fight you!” But he said, “This is the way to learn.” Leroy would teach through real combat controlled sparring with a lot of bruises to show. He was very fast, and I saw many things in his style and he taught me the rudiments of blocks and attacks. For a few months of practice I could never hit him. He was very fast and quick and he kept on teaching me moves that looked really cool and very effective in combat. I now realized they were snippets of forms taken from a long form of traditional stuff. Until after about 2 years I finally got to hit him too, his eyeglasses flew but still he was able to catch it. On my part I felt a little awkward to know he was human after all. I could hit him. But I also felt not good hitting my teacher. What I saw on his part was a good kind of relief that I could already go further. He said, “I think it is time I introduce you to my teacher and I see you have a liking for the old traditional stuff. Maybe it is really good for you to learn from him.” So we decided the next Saturday we would go to the Traditional Kung Fu Master, his teacher Master Cheang Nga Ping or Ty Ngai Ping.
Entering Hong Sing (The Traditional Place to Learn the Art of Kung Fu Choy Lay Fut)
Leroy briefed me on how to behave inside the kwoon. He said he will do the talking, that I should prepare some gifts and money (put it in a red envelope). So finally after getting off the jeepney, we were in Cebu China Town. I saw Chinese food stores, factories, Chinese herbal stores, and then a door with no signs. He said, “This is the place. We have to go up to the third floor. I was in 3rd year High School then. He said that after he talks and vouches for me and my integrity, I was to give my gifts to Sifu Ty. If he will start me off with a lesson, Leroy would get water for him to fill his big water jar. When we climbed the stairs I could smell incense and when I opened the door, it was the weapons rack facing me. I saw a spear, different kinds of swords and staffs. Then I saw a wooden floor with some square drawings with an ‘x’ inside. On the left side was another door that I believed was the kitchen for I could smell the food being prepared. I should say the first experience was a smelling experience of the incense and the food. Then I saw people that were like statues, not moving, and I thought to myself,’ this is so weird’.
Although I already had some lessons on this, “non-movement was the key to movement” I was told. But to see 3 to 5 kids not moving was something to wonder about. You always see people moving. Here they were not moving but sweating profusely, they had little towels and basins beside them.
Then Leroy motions me to the corner where someone was reading the Chinese news paper. Then he says, “That’s the teacher, come with me”. When he approaches, Sifu Ty brings down his paper and smiles. He is happy to see Leroy and Leroy gives him his gifts. They talk and finally he introduces me and motions me to give my gift and the tuition. Master Ty happily accepts them and motions one of the students to start me off. Meanwhile, Sifu Ty continues talking to Leroy and checking on his forms. A student explains to me that the first thing to do is to light a Chinese candle, bow three times, and put the candle on the Chinese altar. “This will serve as your timer. You will do your different stances until this candle runs out. This will not be easy but let’s be gradual and take it slow.” He taught me the different stances, told me to hold them as long as possible, then if I feel I cannot take it anymore, move to the next stance until the candle is done. Then I see Leroy getting water, bringing it up to fill the water jug. He said, “You should always be of service, especially to your teacher.” Now I know why he was well loved by his teacher and even to everyone around him. He was a loyal friend. As for me that was the beginning of a long journey.
To preserve and develop the Legacy of Master Ty was a great privilege but I saw more, I needed to learn more.
When Master Ty passed away, we did not know where to go. I knew there was another teacher in the old Hong Sing School, Master Lao Kim. I also knew that at the time Master Ty left the school to stay a few years in China, Master Lao Kim was the one who took over teaching in the school. I wondered where he was. Would he come back to teach those who wanted to learn more? There were rumors that he was back in Hong Kong.
Then I heard one student say the keeper of Master Lao’s art, Master Johnny Chiuten, was from Cebu. He was a legend in his own right, a loyal student of Master Lao Kim. But he was known to live in a far away island in Cebu, called Bantayan Island. Would our paths cross? Would I get to learn from him to complete the whole Hong Sing System of the Philippines? There were still a lot of questions that needed to be answered.
-To Be Continued…