HOW SHAOLIN KUNGFU CAME TO OUR SCHOOL
FJ brought up an interesting story about Sigung Ho and how he fought off a large group of armed attackers with just a spear, and all by himself.
If I may ask again, Sifu, are there other such amazing stories that you can share with us?
-- Sifu Lee Wei Joo
The story of my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, fighting off a group of more than 35 attackers was one of the two stories which led me to learn from him.
The other story was about my siheng, or elder kungfu brother, learning Shaolin Kungfu from my sifu, after my siheng was hand-picked by Korean masters to lead Malaysia in Taekwondo after the Korean masters had left the country. After learning from my sifu for only a short time, probably less than 3 months, my siheng, Yong, whom I had not met before, told Chang, a friend whom I played table-tennis with, that he (Yong) could beat any Taekwondo exponents in the country, except the Korean masters. After a short pause, he told Chang that even the Korean masters, he could beat them.
At that time, like most combatants, I had much difficulty against Taekwondo kicks. Indeed Taekwondo practitioners often boasted that their kicks were longer and more powerful than Karate punches. Many Shaolin Wahnam students would be surprised at my comments that kicks were easy to counter – after I had learned from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. At one time I was so good at countering kicks, that opponents dared not kick at me.
After listening to the two stories of how Sifu Ho Fatt Nam defeated more than 35 attackers, and how my siheng, Yong, could defeat Taekwondo opponents, I decided to learn from my sifu. I rather be a fool for a day, or a year, instead of missing this opportunity.
Here I shall tell the story of how Shaolin Kungfu came to our school, Shaolin Wahnam.
When the Shaolin Monastery was burned to the ground by the Qing army (I later learned that it was the Shaolin Monastery at the city of Quanzhou in Fujian Province), our Patriarch, the Venerable Jiang Nan, ran south. After crossing a big river (at first I thought it was Chu Jiang, or the Pearl River, but later found that it was Xi Jiang, or the West River), he changed his name to Jiang Nan, which means “South of the River”, so as to escape the notice of the Qing army.
Jiang Nan was a missionary, and he wanted to pass on the Shaolin arts to only one disciple. After wandering for about 50 years, he could not find a successor. Then one night he found a medicine man, Yang Fatt Khun, demonstrating Fengyang Kungfu, famous for its phoenix-eye fist. My sifu told me that it was in southern Thailand, but I later discovered it was in northern Malaya as a treaty in early 1900s ceded the place to the British who were ruling Malaya at that time.
Jiang Nan observed Yang Fatt Khun for seven nights. On the 7th night when the crowd had dispersed, when Yang Fatt Khun packed his belongings to go to his hotel, the Shaolin monk approached the young man, and said,
“Many people applauded your kungfu just now, but your kungfu is useless!”
Before the Yang Fatt Khun could reply, Jiang Nan continued, “Kungfu is for fighting. Let us go back to your hotel and spar.”
Yang Fatt Khun found the Shaolin monk, who was about 80 then, robust and strong, and his voice sounded like a bell, and his eyes sparkled. When they sparred, Yang Fatt Khun respected the monk’s age, and the young man did not use much force.
“Spar your best,” the elderly monk commanded.
But no matter what he did, Yang Fatt Khun found the elderly monk played with him like a child. Yang Fatt Khun himself was good at kungfu. Muay Thai fighters would not allow a medicine man demonstrating kungfu at their place. The young man realized that the elderly monk was a rare kungfu master.
Yang Fatt Khun knelt before Jiang Nan and begged him to accept Yang Fatt Khun as a student.
“You must conclude your business, go up a mountain, and start afresh,” commanded Jiang Nan.
Hence, in our school today, we follow this tradition. No matter how accomplished a student is, he has to start afresh.
Yang Fatt Khun was my sigung, or teacher’s teacher. He was about 30 when he met Jiang Nan. He was about 70 when he met my sifu.
My sifu already knew 6 kungfu styles, and he was a professional Muay Thai fighter. He wanted to learn some Shaolin Kungfu to improve his fighting in the ring.
He heard of an elderly Shaolin master, Yang Fatt Khun, so he begged Yang Fatt Khun to teach him. But each time Yang Fatt Khun declined. My sifu persisted. Finally my sigung told my sifu that he no longer teach.
When a kungfu master said that he no longer taught, would-be students should not ask further. My sifu thought he had lost the change of learning good kungfu.
But then a student of Yang Fatt Khun, who was as elderly as the master, told my sifu, “It’s true my sifu does not teach publicly, but we still practice kungfu in private.” He told my sifu where their training place was, and said he would leave the back door open.
My sifu bought the traditional gift of a cockerel, oranges and a red packet with money inside. At night he went to the training place and true enough he found the back door open.
He found a few students were training, and my sigung was sitting at an altar smoking a pipe. Without making any noice, my sifu went to my sigung, knelt down and offered high his traditional gift.
My sigung took the traditional gift and placed it on the altar, making my sifu very happy.
“This is destiny,” my sigung said, “and this rascal!”
I was naïve to ask why my sigung call my sifu a rascal.
“I was a rascal,” my sifu replied, “because your sigung had to teach me. He was supposed to retire.”
The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread 10 Questions on "Becoming a Shaolin Wahnam Kungfu Practitioner" in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.