Sunday, After the Tournament

Kung Fu tournamentPacking up over a hundred books and DVDs, we departed the Convention Center Sunday, about noon. The two-day spread of the TC Media Kung Fu tournament had allowed us to schmooze with a lot of teachers, students and fans. We felt like we’d been talking continually for two days, but then again, conversations spin off easily when the subject shared is close to heart. The activity was energetic: sifus such as Liang Shou Yu, Scott Jensen, Byron Brown, Yang Jwing Ming, Bryant Fong, William Dere, and Wu Bin criss-crossed the floor; students bumped into former teachers, colleagues engaged in catch-up; we even got to meet up with a few of our own former students. The ear-assaulting booming music compelled an intimacy, where listener and speaker leaned in closer while recounting their tales. And of course, many numerous folk stopped by us to commiserate on the loss of Kwong Wing Lam, commenting on how much he had done promoting the martial arts community.

Moreover, we were delighted by meeting people who had dealt with Plum over the years, enjoying the product, articles, videos, but also the reviews, even the humor of the site. We notched up our conversation by mixing stories of Jimmy Lee, Vince Black, Wong Jack Man, and a generation or two of unforgettable instructors.

The environment was appropriately festive; even with our table set up in a continual arctic wind pattern gushing from the exits, kids jumping to higher ground to spur their teammates on, back stage competitors trying one last time to master that special turn with their weapons. And never mind, here comes the New Guard with quivering swords, warbling thunder sounds, and young competitors caught in frozen moments during a daring leap or aerial kick as though they had been uprooted to free fly amidst hurricane winds.

Besides the demonstration of energetic forms, this convocation had at least two unique points. First, an entirely new division, unrecognized until now, of competition from SongShan Shaolin practitioners themselves. Added to that, a second Shaolin competition, based on Bak Siu Lum (Bei Shaolin) and its famous Iron Palm specialist, grand master Ku Yu Cheong (Gu Ru Zhang), this branch having detached itself a century ago from the SongShan branch, but maintaining the spirit and shape of Shaolin.

The competition in this smaller division, a direct lineage for us, was winner take all, second and third take places. The scores from the diversified judges were pretty flexible, but clear enough that a member of our Santa Cruz school, Nick Hancock, won second place with a well-received Shaolin #7 Plum Blossom Fist.

Teacher feelings: The youthful energy, the dedicated older teachers, the knowledgeable aficionados made this a fine experience. But one might have mixed feelings. On the one hand, you wish the best for all fellow students. On the other, you can only be aware that some portion of the teachings seems to be missing. There is a lack of depth which makes common what we so often encountered—“I USED to practice.” Yes, sure, partly due to age, but possibly, also, the obvious: that some ideas are missing or lost in the expression of what was once basic and common and understandable, a shared experience of inner exploration coupled with external restraint. The problem is, what to do? Train people honestly, thoroughly, deeply, instead of movie auditions; or face the fact that your contribution may now be unsupportable, unnecessary or just plain unwanted?

For me, personally, the proximity of Sifu Kwong Wing Lam’s passing and the rise of new Shaolin based branches can always be balanced by one thing: pracice. Sifu Wing Lam used to say, “It’s only the practice you miss that you will regret.”

And of course sometimes it is enough just to have helped that four foot tall warrior to find the stairs and mount the stage.

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