My interest in martial arts began when I was very young. Perhaps it was the wuxia movies that I grew up with that attracted me to the world of sword wielding heroes. Perhaps it was the influence of those around me, by chance, whom I grew up with and who practiced martial arts. Perhaps, being Chinese, it was expected of me.
I was a true junky. Any system, and technique, I would try to learn, regardless of lineage. But there was one system that I was never able to study, and to this day I often wondered what my martial arts would look like if I did.
When I was much younger, I moped around the martial arts instructional books near the front door of the Jamaica library in Queens, New York. I read every book I was allowed to borrow. There were a couple of kung fu books that I always renewed, borrowing them over and over again, trying to study the system from pictures and limited descriptions. They left me with more questions than answers, but every time I’ve exhausted my number of renewals, I would return them and borrow them again the following week.
Then, when I was 17, I was in Berkeley to stay my sister for the summer and I found myself a construction gig in San Francisco. One day after work, I was on a bus heading home when I passed by a martial arts school with a sign that said “Doc Fai Wong martial arts center.” The name Doc Fai Wong sounded familiar. And then it dawned on me that he was the one who wrote all those books I kept borrowing.
I got off the bus and decided to go in to introduce myself. A tall, menacing looking guy came forward, stood in front of me and said, “May I help you?” This mean looking dude is named Yadollah. Recently, after over twenty years, I asked him why he lost his menacing look and he was actually proud of himself.
I got past Yadollah and did manage to introduce myself to Doc Fai Wong. He was pleasant and inspiring, and patient with everything I was saying to him. I sat in the office where he treated people with acupuncture, already impressed that he was the first licensed acupuncturist in the state of California, and spoke to him frankly about my martial arts, asking for his advice on what I can do to improve. He told me I was carrying too much fire, and I needed to learn Tai Chi and stop thinking about beating up people.
He said he wanted me to join his school and I was thrilled. But in the end, I would return to New York and start college the following week. I never had the opportunity to spend a summer in California again, and every year, missed my chance to study under Doc Fai Wong. My sister, also a martial arts junky, promptly took advantage of my discovery and signed up for his school the following day. She has been studying Choy Li Fut ever since.
Many years later, after studying in so many different systems of martial arts, some of which I excelled at, some of which I was clearly not cut out for, I often wondered how well I could have learned Choy Li Fut if I did study under Grandmaster Wong. A few weeks ago, I flew to California to attend a book signing party for the release of my second novel in the martial arts genre, and the party mainly attracted the martial arts community there. It was Doc Fai Wong who showed up to support me, and to tell me he was proud of me.