MY FIRST SIFU, UNCLE RIGHTEOUSNESS
I'd love to know which art Sigung began study first and what led him to study these arts in the first place.
-- Clair, England
I first learned from Sifu Lai Chin Wah, better known in kungfu circles as Uncle Righteousness. I was then about 10 years old. My father worked in Soon Tuck Association in Penang, Malaysia as a clerk. (This association is for Chinese descended from the Soon Tuck District in Guangdong Province in South China.)
Famous kungfu masters were invited to teach members of the association. As it was the tradition in China in the past, only clan members were allowed. However, Uncle Righteousness had the association leaders agreed to open the kungfu training to any Chinese. I was one of those who was not from Soon Tuck.
Chinese culture was, and still is, very strong in Malaysia. In my opinion there is more traditional Chinese culture in Malaysia, especially in Penang, than in modern China itself. For example, Chinese wearing traditional kungfu dress performing Lion Dance are still found on Malaysian streets, but not in China today. I was particularly interested in kungfu stories. Shaolin heros like Hoong Hei Khoon and Fong Sai Yoke were very familiar to me.
So when I knew that kungfu was taught in Soon Tuck Association, I followed my father there to watch. Every night I would sit at the entrance of the training hall to watch enthralled as Uncle Righteousness taught his students. I was very well-behaved. I sat quietly without causing any interference at all.
One night my lucky star shone brightly on me. Uncle Righteousness asked his student, “This small boy is more dedicated than you all. He never fails to be present every night. Does anyone know who he is?”
One of the senior students named Chiew Shi Khern said, “He's the son of our clerk, Mr Wong.”
“Ha ha ha!” a roaring laughter broke out from Uncle Righteousness. “Small boy, don't sit there. Come into the hall and practice.”
“But I have no money,” I said.
“Don't worry about money!” Uncle Righteousness laughed louder. “I shall teach you free.”
I am forever grateful to Uncle Righteousness for his kindness and generosity. His accepting me as his pupil has tremendously enriched my life and the lives of many other people. I also discovered later that the kungfu he taught was the same kungfu my Shaolin heroes, Hoong Hei Khoon and Fong Sai Yoke, practiced.
Years later I learned from Sifu Chee Kim Thong, the patriarch of Wuzu Kungfu; Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, the third generation successor from the Shaolin Temple; and Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, the patriarch of Wing Choon Kungfu. It was no co-incidence that I learned from patriarchs because knowing what to look for after learning from Uncle Righteousness, I searched for the best.