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Cheung Shu Pui

 

    When I was young, life was very hard and difficult.  My father worked in the Kaitek International Airport in Hong Kong as a fire department officer.  I had five brothers and two younger sisters.  In those days, the government had some dormitories for the workers inside Kaitek Airport, and we lived there in the government housing.

    I studied at Chung Saan Middle School.  The students were all very poor.  At that time, my family didn't have any money.  I studied and completed elementary school and graduated from Form One (which is the equivalent of about seventh grade in the United States) and after that, I didn't have formal schooling.  I went out to work and started working at Kingwah Hotel where I opened doors and carried suitcases and things like that.  I was about sixteen years old.

    When I was about 18, I worked at the Kaitek Airport as a ground worker, moving luggage and doing other types of work.  At that time, there were a lot of movies out about Wong Fei Hung, a legendary kung fu master and herbal doctor, starring a very famous actor called Gwan Dak Hing. When I saw those movies, I got very interested in Hung Gar Kung Fu.  I thought this could really teach someone how to be a good person.  I decided to go out and look for a Sifu to study with.

    At that time, I had already moved to Shaukiwan on Hong Kong island.  I saw my Sifu's name, Ho Lap Tin, there, near Sai Wan Ho, about a 15-minute walk from my house.  I went to look this Sifu up and then I immediately went into his school to study kung fu.  I didn't know anything at that time.  I was really kind of silly.  I just watched a movie and then went out to look for a Sifu.

    The first time I went to the kung fu school, I burned candles and incense for the ceremonies and rituals to study kung fu.  I bowed to the god Guan Gung.  (Guan Gung is a warrior god.  He is known for his loyalty.  He is something like a patron saint to police officers, firefighters and workers.)  Then I started to learn how to do horse stance.  I was a little scared because my Sifu at that time was very stern and strict.  For  the first two or three years, I didn't talk to him very much at all.  At that time, my Sifu never talked much to the students.  The Si-Hings--the older brothers in the school--talked to Sifu.  The Si-Dis--my younger brothers--never talked to Sifu.  If we saw him, we said hello, and when we left the school, we said good night to him,  but that was it.  We would very rarely go out for tea or go out for dinner with Sifu.  So I didn't know all of Sifu's history.  I didn't know much at all.

    Usually the older brothers in the school taught me.  After I had studied for four years, my Sifu started a National Martial Arts Special Class to teach the more attentive and obedient students.  That class consisted of a few of my older brothers, a few of my younger brothers, and myself.  Sifu began to teach us especially.  There were 11 or 12 of us who were the heart of the school.  We had to help the master, listen to what he said, follow him and study him, and we couldn't really oppose anything.  

    At that time, there were a lot of people who came to study for a short time, and then left.  They didn't have the patience to stick it out and learn everything.  To learn kung fu, you definitely need patience.  That's the first requirement, and after patience you need to have time for yourself.  After you determine you have the time, you need to practice hard--you can't fear difficulty or pain.  Those are the important characteristics for studying kung fu.  At that time there weren't any women in my school.  I never saw women studying, but I heard that there had been girls who had come to study with Sifu, but they didn't study very long.  During the time I studied, for seven years, I never saw any women in the school.

    After the special class started, Sifu taught kung fu directly to me, and at that time, I took a lot of time to study dit da, Chinese herbal medicine that deals with bruises, sprains and contusions.  Sifu gave me some recipes for herbal medicine.  The prescriptions are complicated and consist of a lengthy list of ingredients.  He gave the recipes to me and taught me how to cook the medicine.  My Sifu didn't really teach, he told me to go stand aside and observe how to cook and wrap the medicine.  He made us follow him and watch him.  We lived together and slept at the school, so we could study everything with him all the time.  At that time, we talked a lot about how to make herbal medicine, how to prepare and organize the ingredients, and how to examine patients and take care of their wounds through performing surgery.  I also helped my Sifu clean up the kung fu school.  

    My Sifu was very serious and detailed, for instance, he carefully recorded all the kung fu forms, the weapon forms, and the fighting forms inside of books.  Also, the herbal prescriptions for dit da--all were written down in books.  In the future, he would never forget those things.  I slowly was given the kung fu steps and forms and the prescriptions for herbal medicine.  He eventually gave me all the books.

    Ho Lap Tin also gave me some of his personal history books to read.  So I know he was part of the anti-Japanese army, an anti-imperialist who trained anti-Japanese forces in hand-to-hand combat in Canton during World War II.  In Hong Kong, he was also the Sifu to the fishermen who lived and worked near the Shaukiwan fish market.  He wouldn't tell the students these things.  In those days, Sifus wouldn't talk about themselves to students unless you were a student who was with the Sifu all the time.  Unless you lived with him, then maybe you would be told.

    My Sifu gave me a lot of information about the history of Hung Ga Kung Fu as well.  Some of my older brothers know this history.  The others didn't.  This is kind of a secret, Sifu didn't want everyone to know because he didn't want everyone to know about his life.  Now there is all kind of stuff on the internet about kung fu and the history of Hung Ga forms.  The things they say about my Sifu are the things they think up themselves.  Only the most beloved of the students would really know my Sifu's life story.    

    The stuff they write about Hung Ga and other Sifus--well, of course they can write whatever they want.  I don't know if what they write actually follows what their own masters told them.  In the future, I will write about the history of my Sifu's Sifu, my Sigung Dang Fong's history.

    Every Sifu has his won kung fu values.  Twenty or 30 years ago, very few of them had values.  The vast majority of Sifus were not moral; a lot of them were corrupt, they were criminals.  Many of the Sifus were really bad people.  The really did know kung fu, but at that time the government was really messed up, and there was the KIT and the Communist party and the society was so chaotic, so lots of the Sifus just used kung fu for crime.

    When I wanted to study kung fu, I went to Ho Lap Tin of course because I could see how he was and how he taught his students.  If you studied for half a year anywhere, that's enough time to see if the Sifu is a good person.  I discovered that my Sifu was a good person, he wouldn't teach anyone gambling.  I trusted his conduct.

    One day, this other Sifu came from Hawaii to Hong Kong and was looking for a few Sifus to come to America to teach kung fu.  At that time in America, Bruce Lee was just becoming popular, and all these Americans wanted to learn kung fu.  This Sifu decided he would find partners in different cities who wanted to try and start a school.  He came to Hong Kong and found my Sifu and asked him whether or not he had any students who would like to go to the United States to teach kung fu.  My Sifu asked all the older brothers, but no one really wanted to go.  The had careers that paid more than teaching kung fu.  So they didn't want to leave their wives and children to go to America and teach kung fu.  It was right at that time that I thought I would go to Philadelphia.