An important aspect of any culture, and the martial arts in particular, is that of respect. Respect for others, for their property, for their right to their own opinions, and also respect for oneself.
It has really surprised me how over the last 10 years, the concept of respect has become lost on many Americans and especially in the martial arts community. For me personally, what shapes my perception of a person the most is not their background, nor the color of their skin, nor their bank account, nor their ability to perform dazzling feats of athleticism; instead it is whether or not they are respectful and courteous to others.
I’ve met many talented martial artists in my 39 year career. But as I discussed in my book The Broken Rice Bowl, unfortunately some were absolutely horrible people despite having achieved a high level of physical skill. For some reason, they seemed to have forgotten the lessons they learned (or should have been taught…) when they were beginners.
Being respectful and courteous costs nothing, but counts for everything.
Well almost 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to meet another well-known Wing Chun master and by showing him the proper courtesy and respect, it reflected well upon myself and on my own Si-Fu.
Back in 2005, I began teaching seminars in Calgary, Canada and by good fortune made contact with a gentleman named Greco Wong (Wong Cheung).
Sifu Wong had trained Wing Chun in Hong Kong during the 1950’s and 60’s. While initially learning under Sifu Moy Yat, he later went on to study with Sifu Mak Po, Sifu Tsui Sheung Tin and ultimately with Grandmaster Yip Man himself. Years later, he moved to England where he co-authored the first English language book on the art in 1969.
Having owned a copy of this very rare book, I took it with me to our first meeting in hopes of him signing it. The meeting took place over coffee at a Tim Horton’s Restaurant in Calgary.
Upon meeting Sifu Wong, I thanked him for his time and offered to pay for his coffee. What followed was a thoroughly enjoyable chat with a true gentleman. Though my own Si-Fu, Grandmaster Leung Ting, had studied directly with Grandmaster Yip Man during the late 60’s; Sifu Wong had insights from a much earlier period of Wing Chun’s development in Hong Kong. For a lifelong practitioner of the art like myself, Sifu Wong’s stories, experiences, and anecdotes were a goldmine of information. The discussion was a rare educational opportunity for which I was very grateful.
Towards the end of our conversation, we exchanged business cards and did so in the traditional Chinese way:
- The card is always taken from a shirt or coat pocket (never from a wallet out of one’s hip pocket).
- It is presented with both hands and oriented so the receiver can read it.
- The receiver takes it with both hands, reads it, and then places it in their own shirt/coat pocket.
After this, I produced the copy of Sifu Wong’s book, entitled Wing Chun Kung Fu, and asked if he would kindly autograph it for me. Clearly reminiscing, he took the book from me and smiled as he said “of course!”
When he handed the book back to me, Sifu Wong said, “I’ve heard of your Si-Fu [Leung Ting] but have never met him. What is clear however, is that he teaches his pupils proper manners, and I respect that.” Upon hearing this, I remember feeling a great sense of pride. Not just for my own actions, but that I had also brought credit to my own teacher.
This became the first of many visits with Sifu Greco Wong and each was equally enlightening. One of the last times I saw him was in 2007 when he was retiring from his day job. To celebrate, I and my Calgary-based assistant took him out for a sushi dinner where I presented him with a traditional red packet. Sifu Wong was noticeably moved and thanked me. Before departing, Sifu Wong invited both my assistant and I to meet him for Dim Sum, his treat, when I was to come back into town. Several months later, we did join him for the meal – which was also a very enjoyable event.
In closing, the lesson to be learned is that being respectful and courteous costs nothing, but counts for everything. By showing genuine respect to Sifu Wong upon our first meeting, I was granted many such meetings afterwards and developed a friendship which was both rewarding and educational to me.
Remember, good manners never go out of style.
Good luck in your training!