Gung Fu Master of Nothing – Part 2

The Small Idea

My left arm moves slowly forward as I try not to be distracted by the haze of the sun, or the wasp that is bemused by the trickle of sweat running down my cheek. I feel a dull ache from my shoulder. The pain is distant as if muffled by a pillow, but it grows steadily worse. I know that soon my shoulder will collapse with the weight of my outstretched arm. The burden is greater when I make my fingers jut out straight, pulling my arm desperately downwards. I wait for the slight relief that I feel when my arm begins its retreat. I am awash with blissful harmony when my fist finally returns to my side. As it rests, my other arm starts the torturous labour.

My teacher, the bane of my life sits calmly on his chair, in front. He is quiet aside from the occasional tar filled cough, a memento from his previous life as a smoker. I try not to look at him, instead I remember back to recent readings that had instructed me to fix my sight on nothingness, the scriptures that tell me to turn my mind inwards.

Despite this, I can’t help staring at him, his gentle leathered face. The old man is an imitable puzzle. Even with his warm brown skin and light smile. He seems composed of elements from a bygone era; ether, fire and brimstone.

His age was one in which men were not created but were forged of martial metal. His demeanour is that of a sleek sword, slicing rather than stabbing. His hands are of the densest oak, ever powerful. And when he moves, the air around him becomes distorted. It shudders when it feels him lunge and pierce and kick and punch. The air does not carry him nor does it help him gain momentum. When he moves the air ceases to exist.

I continue with the Siu Lim Tao (Small Idea Form).

Growth

Older and one is inclined to argue, wiser, I started learning Wing Chun from Leung Kwok Keung (Liang Gou Qiang) by attending classes held at the appropriately named Temple school of Kung Fu, London, England. I persevered despite being at a disadvantage compared with some of my peers who it seemed were already well versed in other martial arts.

I had a desire not only to learn, but to be the best. I think this mindset has been essential to me and even now I thirst for a deeper understanding of this art.

I kept up with my colleagues and picked up new techniques as well as new bruises along the way.  It was after about a year, perhaps slightly longer before Leung Sifu finally acknowledged my existence. Uptil then, the majority of what I had learnt was second hand, a result of being spoon fed by one of the more senior pupils.

One day, the teacher of the Praying Mantis School, who was conversant in both Mandarin and English, translated the old mans words to me. Leung Sifu felt that I had come a long way because of my dedication to the art. I specifically remember him describing by meeting his hands together and saying that from such inability I had come to the point which he described by parting his hand past shoulder width. This encouragement spurred me into practising harder.

The Offer

One day I overheard that a classmate had booked a mid-week, private lesson. I approached the student asking how this was possible. He told me that since Sifu was retired, he was able to devote all of his time to teaching and on occasion allowed people to come to his house to train in the back garden. As you can imagine, I was determined to become a regular and invited myself to accompany this student. Sifu was happy when I arrived on that breezy, sunny day.

Thus began what I would call my ‘true’ period of learning. No more second hand training. Soon after that lesson my classmate dropped out, yet I continued to go to visit Leung Sifu for private lessons. It was a blessing. I was able to tap into a wealth of information at the source. Sifu was untarnished by the politics that were rampant then and continue now within the Wing Chun fraternity. Come rain or shine, I would venture to his home as often as my timetable would allow. I have no doubt that had this arrangement not have occurred, my Wing Chun would not have been anywhere near the level it is today.

I remember being there on a brisk winter’s day, one year, when it started to snow. Regardless of this my teacher continued to teach. It has to be said that I treated all that he taught me as a precious gift. There was no way I was going to disrespect my teacher by making excuses for not turning up.

Fill your Cup

We were in a restaurant in Chinatown during the New Year celebrations. That evening my teacher had become annoyed at an outside Wing Chun performer who was demonstrating the sword form on stage. Although technically good, Leung Sifu felt that he had failed to perform the movements with beauty or grace.

One would know that Wing Chun is not an aesthetic art per se, but regardless of this Leung Sifu insisted on there being a certain way of moving where you would flow. I took from this that he did not encourage disjointed techniques. He would advocate that you should set the movements to imaginary music or rhythm that was prone to changing tempo. Sometimes melodic and slow, sometimes desperately quick. This is even more profound when one considers the chaotic rhythm of a streetfight.

I sat next to Leung Sifu whilst an assortment of other students were seated around the table. Halfway through the meal one of the group offered to fill Leung Sifu’s tea cup. Custom dictates that the tea is drunk regularly during and following the main course to help cleanse the system. The old man declined. Instead and somewhat surprisingly, he turned to me and lifted his hand from the top of the cup. Quite plainly he motioned me to pour him a new cup full. I was perplexed but obliged nonetheless. I stood up at the table and reached over for a teapot. Bringing it nervously closer I started to pour and stopped at my own discretion. I sat down. Leung Sifu was satisfied at the event, which was in contrast to my own sheepish nonchalance. He smiled and leant over to me. “Tradition” he said. I was astounded, considering this made up one of only a handful of English words he knew. Tradition.

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