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Photo by Rob Sager
Courtesy of Iron Horse Magazine
POST-DR. RICHARD CHIN: My kwoon in 1990, the New York Martial Arts Club.
“I was with Sifu in Hong Kong and Singapore and saw Sigung and all the seniors welcoming him, he lit incense at every altar…..”
MIke Willner, as has been abundantly documented in my writing, and I were brother Disciples of Dr. Richard Chin’s thirty years ago. The art that Sifu Chin taught us, was Jow Ga kung fu. Mike and I went our separate ways from Sifu, at different times and for different reasons, but the fact remains, that Sifu Chin was our teacher and mentor. What Mike was alluding to in his comment, was a trip that he and Sifu Chin took to visit Sigung Chan Man Cheung in Hong Kong and Singapore. “Sigung” is an honorific martial arts title, indicating one’s teacher’s teacher.
In this case, Chan Man Cheung was Sifu Richard Chin’s teacher. The rituals that Mike referred to, that is, the lighting of the incense at the altars, is an privilege reserved only for the Disciples of a teacher, which is what Richard Chin is—Chan Man Cheung’s Disciple. I wrote about the disciple-only ritual of our lighting incense at the altar in our kwoon, as a sign of respect for our teacher (Richard Chin), his teacher (Chan Man Cheung) and the founder of our Jow Ga style, Jow Biu, in “Memoir Part 9.” Richard Chin’s highly public lighting of incense at the altars in Sigung Chan Man Cheung’s presence, as well as in the presence of Chan Man Cheung’s other Disciples, seems like incontrovertible evidence of Chan Man Cheung’s and Richard Chin’s Sifu/Disciple relationship. Yet, there are some in the intervening years, who would spread gossip to the contrary.
Sigung Chan Man Cheung received our teacher and Mike gracefully, as he does with all of his disciples. It is a great honor to meet with one’s Sigung (one’s teacher’s teacher), an honor that I never had—for I’d left Dr. Chin’s kwoon before Mike made this trip with Richard Chin. I also missed a visit that Sigung Chan Man Cheung made to our kwoon, the Asian Martial Arts Studio, in the mid-1970s. This was before I joined Sifu’s school. As I was told by another brother Disciple of Dr. Chin’s, Jeff Pascal, Chan Man Cheung is quite charismatic, with a terrific sense of honor. Above the altar in our kwoon where we lit incense, hung a picture of Chan Man Cheung as a young man, standing with the founder that we are descended from in our style, Jow Biu. As I understand it from others who were there for Sigung’s visit, it was a touching and solemn moment when Chan Man Cheung viewed our altar, with the picture of him and his teacher hung above it.
After I became a Disciple of Sifu’s, I began to hear stories of a frivolous sibling rivalry between my teacher, Richard Chin, and another Disciple of Chan Man Cheung’s named Dean Chin (now deceased, no relation to Richard Chin), who was based in Washington D.C. It was understood at the time, that this was a disagreement among fellow Disciples that was fairly one-sided. In other words, generated by Dean Chin. Richard Chin never had the time for this type of petty nonsense. After Dean Chin passed away, the rumors grew, as Dean Chin’s students latched onto the obvious false notion, that Richard Chin was never a Disciple of Chan Man Cheung’s—in spite of the abundant evidence to the contrary. I paid no-never-mind to this effete nonsense, even as the crescendo of the gossip grew like Pinocchio’s nose over the years.
You might’ve heard of the “Pinocchio Awards” given by the Washington Post for political lies, in terms of numbers. The higher the number of “Pinocchios” given, the greater the lie. “1 Pinocchio” would be given for a little white political lie. “4 Pinocchios”—the highest number possible on a scale of 1 to 4—would be awarded by the Washington Post, for the most outrageous and egregious lie voiced by a politician. I would have to award Dean Chin’s students’ gossipmongering, with 4 Pinocchios, for that is as high as the Pinocchio scale goes.
We at the Asian Martial Arts Studio never dignified this irrational caterwauling by the Dean Chin students, with any type of response. Why bother? It was too ridiculous to even think about. We didn’t suffer fools gladly, and these fools were making obvious fools of ’emselves—they didn’t need our help in that department. You wouldn’t even think—30 plus years after I left Sifu—that I would have a dog in this fight. That is where you’d be wrong.
Sifu Richard Chin and I may have separated, but the reality is, that Richard Chin will wlways be “Sifu” to me. It is the honorable thing to speak up about this issue. I can’t answer as to what the motivation of Dean Chin’s students is—I’m not a forensic psychologist. All I can say is, hey—if they want to waste their time and breath, it’s their time and breath. However, I believe that I owe it to Sifu Richard Chin to state in writing, the obvious: That Richard Chin is a Disciple of Chan Man Cheung’s, and that no amount of misguided revisionist history will change that fact. I owe much to Sifu Chin for what he gave to me, regardless of how our relationship turned out. I will always be indebted to him. Later.