The Gift of a Teacher

kwong wing lam Yesterday we attended the memorial for Wing Lam, my teacher for a number of years. Over a hundred students and family gathered in the chapel to pay last respects. Many people crowded the middle aisle, most of them dressed in black or white, as per the formal instructions for a Daoist ceremony. The middle aisle was barely large enough to hold the river of people crowding forward, first to take the incense stick then to bow or gesticulate as did the man on his knees right in front of me. Finally people walked to the coffin to view and bow. I turned back, though, unable to allow myself to change all those images I already kept in my head.

Debbie and I re-seated ourselves. We listened as a line of people stood and addressed the audience while two TV screens showed images to highlight the spoken word.

Again and again, students and family stood to speak their peace. Some insights about Wing Lam’s humor, kindness and knowledge brought sparkle like the sun on ocean waves. The illumination was as scattered as bursts of fireworks.

And the same message kept coming through again and again: how much they owed Lam Sifu as a teacher and as a person. How much he promoted his arts. How, finally, near the end, he did not want to bother anyone. This was his shy side. I remember him telling me about a photographer flying up from Burbank to take his picture for the cover of Black Belt Magazine. It seems he was a frustrating model. The camera man wanted Lam to show some technique like subduing his opponent with a nasty “grimace” on his face. I asked him what he did about this. “I told him,” he said to me, straight-faced, “in Kung Fu we don’t grimace.”

And now, the next day, I get a package from Hong Kong, a new book detailing Hung Gar in media, including 3-D glasses and photos, wild colors, and many famous masters of the Hung style. Beautiful illustrations, movie posters, scenes from advertising. Original photos of Lam Sai Wing. My teacher would have loved these. It’s not an instructional text, but here it is, as a reminder. I am sure there will be many more. Those eulogizing him kept saying, “You are all part of Wing Lam. Your teacher is always in your life.” With absolute serious I can say I have never seen so many people, especially men, break down and cry as they testified.

A little later we burned “money” to help his spirit billow upward to the sky.

2 Responses to “The Gift of a Teacher”

  1. Tyler Rea says:

    Another Great loss to the Martial Arts community.
    My Heartfelt condolences to all Sifu Lam’s student and Family.
    He will never be forgotten.

  2. My condolences on the loss of your former teacher. I bought some of his videos in the late 1990s and he was obviously an experienced instructor with a breadth of martial knowledge that was impressive.

    I have seen two of my former taiji teachers die in the last 20 years and it’s hard to express the sorrow felt when important role-models go to join their ancestors.

    My condolences to his family, his friends and former students.

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