Painting by graphic artist and Gung Fu student-Colette Brierley with gratitude.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION IN KUNG FU by Peter Farrell
Over the years I have studied kung fu I have been very fortunate to meet with and learn from great teachers, from the time I studied with Rose Li in the early days to being accepted as a student by Master Chu Siu Woon, and more recently to studying Sun Style Tai Chi with Sifu Bob Melia and being introduced by him to Sifu Dave Martin and Master Lei Shi Tai. In addition, I have been in the advantageous and privileged position of having my own brother John Farrell as my Sifu. If I have gleaned one thing during this time it is the importance of tradition if one wishes to be given or understand the deeper teachings and become an effective kung fu practitioner.
Although Miss Li’s approach to the student – teacher relationship appeared informal and more “western”, in the first instance Miss Li accepted students who wished to learn but would teach Tai Chi only on a basic level. Then, if people showed interest they were free to join her more in-depth seminars on the “internal” aspects of Tai Chi. Her warmth and openness heralded a new era in the often jealously guarded transmission of Kung fu, in particular the internal arts. Nevertheless, her small stature and approachable demeanour still commanded the traditional respect afforded to earlier Masters of the tradition. Upon reflection, although Miss Li did not have favourites and appeared to give the same teachings to all, individuals who thought of her as an ordinary teacher received only ordinary teaching, but to those who treated her as a teacher who carried the lineage of Yang style Tai Chi and appreciated her generosity in passing on her vast knowledge, received the lineage teaching as though they were directly from the founders. Perhaps this was not due to anything extra that Miss Li taught but to the humility and consequent openness of the students which allowed them to understand the deeper aspects of the art.
Although Miss Li freely accepted Western students, without having them prove their determination with some physical feat, students still had to show their dedication and resolve by becoming proficient in aspects of Tai Chi, before she would teach Bagua. To proceed further, students would need to become proficient in both Tai Chi and Bagua before learning Hsing Yi.
During the time I studied with Rose Li, I was also studying Wing Chun Kung Fu, accompanied by my brother, with Sifu Alan Lamb. Around this period my brother John heard about Master Chu, and after much investigation located him and requested to be accepted as his student. Master Chu accepted John as a student and only after many years of traditional training, hard work and dedication was he given permission to teach the system on his own (John now has the honour of being Master Chu’s senior student). Later, having seen my brother practicing I was enthused by this powerful style of Kung Fu and wrote to Master Chu asking if he would accept me as a student. On the day I went to meet with Master Chu I was greeted by one of his students who asked me who I was etc., and reported back to Master Chu. Without a glance my way, Master Chu instructed his student who came to me and showed me how to stand in a low horse riding posture with the instructions “Mr Chu wants you to see you do this”; which I did for 30 minutes! (I had to keep resting – I’m not that good). Eventually, seeing my extreme discomfort, and following a conversation with Master Chu, the student approached me and said “Mr Chu says you can lean against the wall” which I gratefully did – for another 30 minutes! During that time I desperately wanted to sneak out never to be heard of again but my brother John was practicing in the hall and had I left he would never have let me forget it!
Eventually, Master Chu came over with his student and with a look of pathos (or was it disdain) indicated to me to rest and via the translator asked me some questions about my martial experience to date. In desperation, and realising I may not be accepted, I played my trump card and swiftly told him I was John’s brother; that clinched it! However, that was not the end of it. My time with Master Chu was interspersed with such tests if one wished to prove oneself and proceed along the path – not for the faint hearted!
During my time with Miss Li and Master Chu therefore, in addition to the art itself, I learned the importance of tradition both in the mechanisms of practice and relationships with the teacher and other students. Although Miss Li’s approach was perhaps more gentle and informal than that of Master Chu, each in their own way clearly showed the importance of tradition if a student wished to move forward. Without tradition we get to the stage we are at today where anybody with a couple of years training (with anybody with a couple of years training) can take on the mantle of a teacher and begin to teach a misinformed, misunderstood and watered down version of their chosen system. For me the old ways are particularly important in these days of gigantic egos, easily accessible mind and body therapies and disposable coffee table books on how important you are (I’m sure they have a place). Tradition ensures correct transmission of a system of Kung Fu by knowledgeable, suitably disciplined and hopefully, humbled individuals (that doesn’t mean to say you can’t have pride in your knowledge and system). Without tradition, students will be taught Kung fu that reflects the lack of knowledge and egotistical (and deluded) notions of teachers with little grounding.
Rightly or wrongly, as a result of traditional training, I try to apply the following tenets to my kung fu training:
- Show gratitude to the teacher for his/her openness in teaching the art.
- Respectfully request teachings, assistance and continued observation until such a time as I am told I am good enough to do it on my own.
- Accept teaching with humility and respect. If something is confusing or doesn’t correlate with what I know or think I know, ask for clarification in a polite and non-threatening manner.
- Never try defeat the teacher (that’s not to say we cannot test our development)
- Practice to the best of my ability and capability.
- When offering the teacher payment or gifts do so in a respectful manner.
- Respect my fellow students and never try to defeat them (that’s not to say we cannot test our development)
These days we are used to demanding value for money and our ego may say “why shouldn’t I do this…” or “I am paying for lessons and I can decide what I do or don’t do…” etc. but we should try to realise that non of these things we are taught or are asked to do are for the benefit of the teacher, they are all for our own benefit to develop the knowledge and the qualities of a true kung fu practitioner.
Eastern Weekly Magazine
The article below was published in Eastern Weekly Magazine many years ago and has been translated as faithfully as possible. Many thanks to Eastern Weekly Magazine
Master Chu Xiao Hang belongs to the Elderly Group master among the Chinese Martial Arts Clubs in Britain.
Former La Ma monk displayed magnificent techniques in China Town:
A little Tibetan La Ma monk destined originally to spend his life in a temple, which is deep in the mountain. He did not expect the God of Destiny made another arrangement for him. The little La Ma monk not only ventured to the world, he even travelled over the ocean to come to Britain. He relied on the use of his Tibetan “Hei Kung” which came from a secret source to build his own world. He became an eminent Kung Fu master. He performed his Martial Arts in front of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen’s mother. His disciple used to be a member the Queen’s body guard. Michael Kaderie also sincerely invited him to give blessings to Rolls Royce dancing lion which he recently purchased. English people addressed him as Master Chu Chinese people called him as Chu Master Chu Xiao Hang.
When one looks at him short limbs and build, he walks with his tummy sticking out, from his appearance one does not expect a martial arts expert like Chu Xiao Hang.
But when he is walking along Manchester China Town, everyone respectfully calls him “Master Chu”. Is it that people are being hypocritical or is it that he really deserves this honour?
The doubtful thought of the reporter may not be aware by Master Chu, but when the reporter asked him with type of “Hei Kung” he is practicing, Master Chu would stand up in a casual way and said “you can have a go at it”
First of all he told the reporter to use his hand to pinch his tummy the feelings were as usual soft and tender like a piece of fat.
After that he stretched out both of his legs and took a deep breath and said “Now you can pinch me again!”
The reporter pressed it and felt completely different. His tummy looked as though it was filled with air, very tight. No matter how much force you used to press, twist and pinch it it did not move at all.
It is even more magnificent, Master Chu can transmit the air in his body to any part of the body: hands, back, thighs, throat etc. He does not require to do any “Hei Kung” practice like one usually sees in “Hei Kung” performances, they would stretch out their framework and exercise a while beforehand. Master Chu only gently takes a breath, within a few seconds and already in readiness.
“I have been practising for several ten years I have already reached to the highest limit. I do not require to exercise for a long time to accumulate the air. I can do it ant time and anywhere”.
His Kung Fu performance in front of Queen Elizabeth-The Queen Mother
Master Chu’s Martial Arts School is situated in Manchester China Town. He also set up a clinic to treat people’s illnesses. He is very emminent in Britain.
Since he immigrated to Britain twenty-eight years ago, Master Chu had taken over 3000 followers. Over half of them are “Gwai Lo”. There were also overseas Chinese and Indians etc.
One of his followers is British and he even is one of the Queen’s bodyguards. He learnt Monkey Boxing from him.
Besides his supreme arts in “Hei Gung”, Master Chu also did research into several groups of martial arts. His Lion dance is well known to be above all the others. He was invited to perform inside the Palace many times including in front of Her Royal HighnessThe Queen Mother.
Two years ago. The Peninsular Hotel in Hong Kong purchased 9 Rolls Royce cars from Britain. The Chairman of Shanghai Hotels Co Ltd, Michael Kaderie, especially invited Master Chu to perform the Lion Dance during the handing over of car keys ceremony. Michael said that if I do a Lion Dance for his cars it will bring much luck to them.
Master Chu did not boast about himself. In Britain, amongst the Martial Arts Groups he is really belonging to the elderly master class. Even during the Manchester Hall (Chinese Cultural Centre?) opening ceremony he took the lead with his followers to perform the lion dance.
Strange encounters when taking refuge in Tibet
Whatever Master Chu involves in Hei Gung, Kung Fu, Lion Dance and curing people, he is excelling. Master Chu had gathered the good points of each group into himself. Everything had been arranged by fate or maybe can be found in the martial arts novels which are frequently quoted as destiny.
I listened to Master Chu relating his part, its turns and twists like the plot of a martial arts novel, an unknown little man became an extraordinary hero.
Master Chu originated from Toisan. Durin warring times in China, his father took refuge in Tibet and married a Tibetan girl. No wonder Master Chu appears to be strange. He does not look like Cantonese for he is mixed with Tibetan blood.
“My father was selling Buddha books and beads in the Lasa Temple, therefore I became a Lama when I was very small”.
During Master Chu’s teen age he learnt the Tibetans Secret Art-“Mud Chung Hei Gung” which benefitted him for his whole life.
When he was 13 or 14 his Father and Mother died one after another. For the sake of taking his parents bodies to be buried in his home village, the young, little Lama Monk returned to the world and left Lasa to return to Guangdong.
Master Chu then followed an extremely old Shaolin Monk who had returned to the world. His name was “Go Lo Tin”. He learnt from him the arts of Lion Dance, Dragon Dance, Kung Fu and the treatment of bones. He was well rehearsed about these.
In 1946, the Communists took over China. At that time Chu Xiao Hang was only 19 years old. He went to Hong Kong, just like many others who were going there. He did not know anyone there and all he knew was displaying Kung Fu. He could not show forth his skill. The only thing hr could dowas to work inConstruction, Building work to earn a living.
As he is an honest person and he saved a westerner out of bravery, he had an opportunity of going abroad to learn to be a chef. He had been to Australia, India and finally he came to Manchester in Britain and settled down. Time just passed quickly…this happened 28 years ago.
“At that time I was working in restaurants in Chinatown. When I had time I practiced Kung Fu myself. I had never thought of teaching followers or starting a martial arts school. If the Kwai-Lo did not cause trouble, no-one knew I could do Kung Fu”.
To stop having “Tyrant’s Meal”-Smashing the brick and his name spreaded
On that night as usual, at 12pm (midnight) the restaurant was nearly closing. Only Master Chu and the lady cashier were left behind. The last table of customers were several Kwai Lo. After they had had a big meal, they made some excuses and refused to pay for the meal. The lady cashier was so frightened by them and she did not know wat to do. She went to the kitchen and asked Master Chu to come out to deal with them. Master Chu took out several bricks from the bottom of the flower pot in the reataurant, the said to the Kwai Lo who wanted to have the Tyrant’s Meal. “If they could use their hands to smash the brick in one go, they could have a free meal.
They are very clever, they turned around and said if I could smash the brick with my hand in one go, they would pay up. So I used my palm and smashed the brick”.
Since the incident Chu Xiao Hang’s name spreaded out in Chinatown. Many young people came to look for him to learn Kung Fu.
Hearing his name, both Chinese and westerners came to him increasingly. To fulfill the request of the people Master Chu started the first Martial Arts School in Manchester and turned it into a martial arts enterprise.
Master Chu Xiao Hang is aged 65 now. After he returned to the world, he married and set up family. His wife and children are in Manchester.
“My children did not follow me to learn Kung Fu. They said they are not interested. On the contrary some Kwai Lo followers have been with me for nearl 20 years. Probably everything happened because of destiny”
Aged 83 follower taught “Chong Yeung Kung”
Master Chu said that Lama monks in Tibet learnt “Mud Chung Hei Kung”. If the person who reached the arts to the highest point, he can sit still and fly up into the air. Only a few persons in the world have reached to such a high point. Tat Lai Lama is one of them. We only learnt that the well known Tat Lai Lama is so marvellous. If he did not say it we would not know. To fly up in the sky is out of this worlds art.
The reporter had not seen it but Master Chu used the “Kung” to fill up his tummy and became so hard. I had seen it with my own eyes. It is absolutely not false.
Some men would be interested to ask; if a man during sexual intercourse was not as satisfied as he would wish and if after practicing Hei Kung, would it be a remedy?
“It really helps” master Chu replied, “but during practice, one has to calm down. After practicing for about 3 weeks it would be effective and better after several months. If “Kung” is efficient you can fill the air as long as you want. How long does it take to reach such a situation?….It depends on each individual” Master Chu continued.
No wonder that one of the followers of Master Chu who is nearly 20 years older than him, Chan Po Kwong aged 83, regarded as a “Tao” expert and he used “Chong Yeung Hei Kung” as advertising and intended to set himself up in Chinatown.
The most interesting thing is Chan Po Kwong who came fron China practiced “Tong Tze Kung” (A childs kung fu skill involving extreme twisting as stretching. Practiced throughout life it is often known as “Virgin Boy Skill”).
A few years sgo he followed Master Chu as his master. From the Master who taught “Chong Yeung Hei Kung”
I do not know any man who would not have confidence in him.