Chu Shong Tin: The Last Goodbye
The last time Mark and I visited Hong Kong was March 2014, 4 months before Sigung passed away. I knew before that it was likely to be my last trip, not because I was aware of Sigung's illness, but because I thought my own wing chun journey was coming to an end. My training had stagnated and I was not sure how I could move on. Aside from Mark and Jon the other people I was training with were self limiting in their motivation and seemed to actively avoid chi sauing with us. The trip was one last chance; find a better way or pack it all in.
Unlike earlier visits I decided that I would not seek to test others or myself as that is a self defeating route. This time I would listen, feel and take in as much as I could no matter how much my ego wanted to have a go. Even if I though I could match others by adding a bit of muscle, that was something I wanted to leave behind, now I wanted to sense why they could practice so effortlessly.
When I first saw Sigung it was a shock, he was about 74 when I first met him but now 80 his age was finally showing. However as soon as he saw us his familiar smile lit up the room and shuffled over with friendly greetings. Perhaps his power had diminished, but not enough for me to really tell. His demonstrations were effortless, unstoppable and his passion burned as he gave detailed explanations. Although I cannot speak cantonese, I would stand transfixed as if his words would somehow magically sink in. Fortunately I had Mark to act as translator, because of his relationship with Sigung I was always able to to get to the heart of the demonstrations, have my questions answered and experience the sensations of his touch. There were occasionally other people who would try to 'test' Sigung, somehow oblivious to his ill health, but he was quite capable of batting them away with ease. On one occasion a visitor was also given a lesson in manners from a protective Nima King, but Sigung watched on oblivious.
There were many highlights of the trip, all enhanced by approaching each experience as a chance to learn. Each afternoon was spent with Sisuk Ma Kee Fai, one of Sigung's senior students and one of the most humble and skilled men you can meet; a morning learning from my friend John Kaufman about his interpretation of the Chu Shong Tin method; a lesson from Sisuk Eddie Chan (see Ideas wing chun on Youtube) with an amazing demonstration of Bil Jee power, and after training with Sigung each evening there was a trip to the pub with big brother Kris Collins. He is an encyclopedia of knowledge about Chu Shong Tin wing chun and I wish he would return to the UK to teach. The true highlight though was training, watching and being inspired by Sigung. Inspiration is truly the word as it flowed from him and everything he did. The last session was the best, shortly before the end he came up behind me and with a few touches of my shoulder he was lifting me up by the elbow but I could not feel a thing. He had the ability to notice a release of a muscle from across a room and hone in on it. The final highlight was a simple handshake just as I was leaving, in the past I had always given a polite bow but this time he offered his hand and I took it eagerly. I am sure for him it meant nothing, I was just another visitor from overseas, but there was clearly an element of a final farewell which touched me.
I returned to the UK fully inspired, however things had not changed in Sheffield and so Mark, Jon and I decided that once Sigung had passed it would be time for us to start our own school. Before leaving Hong Kong this had been suggested several times to us and we knew it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately on 28 July 2014 the news of his death came. He has been battling cancer for many years but despite that he continued to teach until the week before his death. I was on holiday in Canada and reference to the event on Facebook hit me like a punch to the stomach. For myself I was only a minor bit part near the end of his life, but my grief was for his family and those would trained with him daily for so many years. At first I could not even talk about it and only after a day did I show my partner an email confirming the news in order to explain my sadness.
Sigung left a great legacy, in video, books and with his students. He was never matched (no one came close), but his inspiration lives on and this accounts for the reason people contact our club from across the UK and Europe wishing to know more about him and experience his training process. To honour his memory we should follow his example as best as we are capable. We should seek to understand our bodies, use as little force as possible and be honest with ourselves about our abilities. The wing chun taught by Sigung was a true gift to us, something that can grow with us through life and something we should treasure.
6/12/2015 01:59:05 am
Dan...thank you for your inspired and artful description of your last visit to Chu Shong Tin's school in Hong Kong. Such a touching tribute reminds all of us how special he was as both a man and as a teacher. I hope you and Mark consider returning to Hong Kong to continue sharing kung fu. As always, your friend, John Kaufman
6/12/2015 07:41:06 am
Great piece. The beauty of experience is in the sharing.
6/12/2015 08:13:43 am
Lovely reading your story, Thanks!
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