Dong Quai Tea and Onion Soup

5 01 2014

During Sifu Chin’s last few years with us, I spent a lot of time learning from him in the gym before classes began. It was here, beginning around 3 p.m., and ending shortly before the first students arrived for the two hour class at 6 p.m. I got to hear conversations between Sifu Chin and my Si Hing Tehran Brighthapt, who had a special relationship with Dean Chin as one of his best fighters. On Sundays, training with Sifu started with class at 10 a.m., which Sifu Raymond Wong normally taught–unless Sifu decided to crash the class. Whether or not he so decided, Sifu taught shortly after lunch when Raymond’s class ended. Then on days when Sifu didn’t come to the school–usually on Saturdays, my brother and I would walk down South Glebe Road in Arlington, Virginia, and practice at Sifu’s house.

One of my strongest memories was the smell of Dong Quai tea, cigar smoke, incense, and Dit Da Jow, as Sifu’s practices involved him sipping on the tea–which he drank for headaches–while he puffed on his cigar, incense for the founders, and Jow because Sifu believed strongly in conditioning. If you were to take Jow Ga from me versus some of my training mates, you would notice the difference of how I teach the art, because I teach how I was taught.

Training with Sifu was rarely formal. There was no Gin Lai at the beginning and ending of class. Actually, each time Sifu taught a technique, he expected a Gin Lai. Normally, I would arrive from school (Sifu had given me a key to the school when I was 13) before him usually, to do homework. When Sifu arrived, he would send me out to fetch his tea and a cup of Onion Soup with dried noodles. After a short talk, or me reading magazines while Sifu and Brighthapt chat while people-watched, Sifu would tell me to go into the gym and practice. I use to daydream that he would show me some amazing new form, weapon or a super-technique that would empower me to whip everyone. Instead, what I learned was the value of hard work, attention to detail, and occasionally, something that was not on the curriculum. Something unique that was between me and him, that I could only practice alone–to be revealed at some function when Sifu would tell me, “Go and do that form.” I took a lot of pride in that relationship, because I learned a piece of Sifu Chin that most of my classmates did not know existed. I beat the drums and learned his favorite rhythms and powerful drumming technique that only a few could duplicate. Once he told me that a shop owner told him that when he heard me playing the drums, he thought it was him. Sifu spent a lot of time on the same few forms, and we did the same applications over and over for common techniques that everyone did differently. Only years later would I realize that this was the “Dean Chin version” of those techniques. And through the conversations with him, I learned the DNA of his fighting logic. While some folks chased rank and form, I was the second youngest student in the school–and kept my mouth shut while I just waited for Sifu to decide when I got to learn next, and what it would be.

When our lessons first began a regular schedule, Sifu just told me to come to the gym to clean up and practice. That was the result of me dusting my pants while practicing splits. Stanley Dea was teaching, and we were stretching while Sifu sat in the front and watched. He asked why I was moving and I told him the floor was dirty. He chastised the entire class for the school being dirty. After class my brother and I cleaned the floor, and we received our first instruction. It was a Saturday, and Sifu was in the office fussing at the instructors. He came in and told us to practice when we were done. Some time later he came in to explain the horse stance to us and how it was used to generate power in punching. He later told me that he was impressed with the length of time my brother and I practiced, that he rarely saw children so young practice without complaining. After a few hit-or-miss training sessions with him, Sifu pulled me in the office with Sifu Wong. He told me that if he were to teach me, I needed to teach the art forever, that the lessons with him were more expensive than any other lessons I could find anywhere. Basically, I would owe my life for them, and I agreed. I was 13. I was to stick close to Raymond, and Sifu would come down on Sundays for practice after the regular scheduled class. Every Sunday led to several days after school, and that led to lessons at his house–and that led to the conversations, which seemed trivial then. Yet years later I see that they were just as valuable as the lessons.

I was already an advanced beginner when my one-on-one lessons began, and Sifu first retaught me my basics. complaining that I had moved too quickly. (And prior to that, I thought I was learning too slow! It took me a year to learn our first form)  But once I had gathered the courage to ask Sifu for more instruction, and he agreed, teaching me forms that were not “on the list”. Yet by the time I was in high school, I had learned half the curriculum. I was able to meet and train with his uncle. When he had visitors, I got to learn from them as well. When I was 14, I told Sifu that I would have to work a part time job in my family’s store because my mother was paying for my lessons to three martial arts schools and I had to pitch in. Sifu waived my tuition for life, telling me to see Raymond Wong and Craig Lee if anything happened to him. One year later, Sifu was dead.

During that last year, I became fond of the smell of Dong Quai and Onion soup. I could drink the soup, but warned to stay away from the tea. He said it was not for children, and was more medicine for headaches and blood, rather than a drink (Sifu actually enjoyed wine). I use to equate cigar smoke and incense with training, and soup with wisdom. I learned that the martial arts is not a business arrangement after you get through the fundamentals. Once you reach a foundation in the art, it becomes a relationship. You can’t pay for this kind of thing; you don’t need a business arrangement for it. You don’t need a term to describe it. You don’t even arrive with expectations. You simply commit to learning, and when the student is ready, the Master appears. When you literally sit at the feet of the teacher, you will learn things that cannot come from a book. You must be patient. You must be willing to come to the gym, practice for hours, and sometimes do that for several sessions without “learning” anything new.

Then one day, years in the future, you will look back and realize you had received some of the most valuable instruction money can’t buy. Sifu left us too soon, but everyone who came away with a piece of the Dean Chin puzzle has a piece that is worth more than gold or silver. If you would like to learn more about Dean Chin’s Jow Ga, I would strongly encourage you to look up each of his students who are teaching and spend time with them. Everyone–Sifus Momenan, Henderson, Bennett, Hon Lee, Mims, Hoy Lee, Rahim Muhammad, Troy Williams, Raymond Wong, Deric Johnson, Brighthapt, Howard Davis, Wheeler, myself–we all have a part of Dean Chin’s unique fighting style. If you’re lucky, patient, and dedicated, you might get a good taste of what it was like learning from the Chinatown school in the days when Sifu Chin was teaching, and why his version of this art was so special.

Thank you for visiting the Dean Chin Jow Ga Federation.



One response

5 01 2014

Wow lucky you bro.

Hopefully I can get some of those memories recited to me one day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: