The Buddha, symbol of wisdom, compassion, courage and trustworthiness
After leaving Chan Chun Fook and Cheah Pak, Luk Ah Choy was thinking of his sifu, the Venerable Chee Seen. He sifu had been like a stern father and a kind mother to him. He was sent by his sifu to catch Lai Fu, who secretly crawled through a drainage hole of the Shaolin Monastery instead of graduating through the Lane of Wooden Men. Now he let Lai Fu go. Didn’t he forget his sifu’s grace and forsake his sifu’s righteousness? Didn’t he betray his sifu? He became very miserable, and decided to return to the Shaolin Monastery at once to see his sifu.
As soon as he arrived at the Shaolin Monastery, he went straight to a meditation room to see his sifu, the Venerable Chee Seen. He knelt down and said nothing.
Seeing Luk Ah Choy’s return, Chee Seen was very happy. But Chee Seen did not see Lai Fu captured. So he asked, “Ah Choy, you have been away for a long time. Stand up, have a seat and tell me what you have been doing all these days.”
Luk Ah Choy continued to kneel before his teacher and knocked his head three times on the ground. His tears rolled down unceasingly. “Sifu,” he said, “this time my return is to take punishment. I have broken monastery rules, and am willing to accept any punishment and advice sifu will give.”
“Ah Choy, what is this? What punishment?”
Luk Ah Choy felt ashamed. He told his sifu that he did not want brothers in the same kungfu lineage to fight with each other, that he let Lai Fu go, and that he lingered around outside the monastery to deceive his sifu.”
Hearing this, Chee Seen was furious.
“Bring my Zen maze!” he ordered.
The monks nearby were terrified. Those sympathetic to Luk Ah Choy were perturbed, thinking in their heart that Luk Ah Choy would surely be seriously punished. Some eyed Luk Ah Choy and were worried for him, but Luk Ah Choy was unmoved. He continued kneeling without saying anything.
Two monks brought his Zen mace for Chee Seen. He took the mace and walked out of the room. After a few steps, he turned round and asked Luk Ah Choy to follow him. He also asked the monks standing on both sides to sound the monastery bell.
When the monastery bell was sounded, everyone assembled in the main hall. The atmosphere was very tensed. Everyone was aghast to the extreme.
Chee Seen, with the Zen mace in his hand, stepped forward. He asked Luk Ah Choy to stand in front of the gathering.
“Ah Choy,” Chee Seen said loudly, “you have never beguiled the blood in my heart (i.e. my earnest dedication and expectation).
Luk Ah Choy could stand no longer. He cried loudly, “Sifu!”
The Venerable Chee Seen continued, “The principles of our monastery are to be wise, compassionate, courageous and trustworthy. You have achieved all these principles. Today, I have gathered everybody to show you as a model, so that all who come after can be like you.
“Let us just discuss what you have done this time. You received order to bring Lai Fu back to the monastery. Other people will do just that, so as to please me. But you are different, you let him go. You let him go because you do not want to see someone whom you have met for years to fight amongst themselves. Anyone who lacks feelings and righteousness cannot do that.
“Anyone knows that disobeying sifu’s order would be severely punished. But you are willing to take the punishment on his behalf, showing the great compassion of your heart. To be able to do this requires wisdom and thoughtfulness. It is not attainable by ordinary people.
“You have waited till today to return to the monastery to report. You have spoken straight (i.e. honestly) without any lies. This is trustworthiness.
“Just now I shouted for my Zen mace. For other people, whose face will not change color, whose legs will not shake? But you have remained complacent, and your spirit was calm. Without courage, who can do this?
“All said, all these are virtues. Virtues should be spread. I hope all present will emulate.”
After he had completed his speech, the Venerable Chee Seen held a cup of tea and passed it to Luk Ah Choy.
“Ah Choy, drink it.”
Luk Ah Choy again prostrated, then drank the tea in one gulp.
After Luk Ah Choy had finished drinking the tea, the Venerable Chee Seen said.
“Ah Choy, although your kungfu is still far from the stage of ascending the summit and creating afresh (i.e. have reached the height of the state of art, and is ready to create new developments), you have realized the principles we cherish. Tomorrow you can descend the mountain (i.e. leave the monastery).”
Luk Ah Choy was one of the Shaolin masters who spread Southern Shaolin Kungfu to the world. His disciple, Wong Kai Ying, taught his son, Wong Fei Hoong, whose lineage spread to Europe and North America.
Luk Ah Choy, the old man who was the owner of the shop, and Cheah Pak were drinking wine, enjoying delicious dishes and conversing like old friends. They talked about heaven and earth (i.e. talked about causal things) until late at night, until most of other people were asleep.
Luk Ah Choy learned that the old owner was called Chan Chun Fook.
“That’s a lovely pipe, Uncle Fook” Luk Ah Choy commented, pointing to the pipe the old owner was smoking with.
“Every night after work, I would spend an hour or so smoking my pipe,” Chan Chun Fook said. “Cheah Pak is different,” the old owner referring to his cook. “He’s young. Every night he practices his kungfu.”
“I practice my kungfu diligently,” Cheah Pak added, “but I am no where compared to our warrior here.”
They were dining inside the shop, but suddenly a group of about ten persons in black dresses and all wearing masks appeared. They jumped in from open windows and were carrying weapons, like sabres and staffs.
“We’re here to take your money,” the leader who was holding a pair of sabres in his hands, said loudly to the dinners in the shop. “Quickly place on the table all you have, or else we shall chop you into pieces.” His voice was like thunder. A few remaining customers who were still having their meals were terrified.
Luk Ah Choy reached for his iron drakes and ducks, secret weapons he carried in a small bag on his body. In an instant, he sent the flying iron pills at the robbers. He had learned the secret weapons from a master, so his aim was very accurate. He hit the hands of the robbers holding their weapons. Their weapons dropped on the floor, and they were holding their hands in pain. Some of them were groaning on the ground.
But the leader used his two sabres to deflect the flying iron pills. He was shocked to see all his remaining gang members wounded. For a few seconds he did not know what to say.
Cheah Pak stood up and addressed the leader. “Since you have come, you may not like to leave empty-handed. I’ll give you a gift. I’ll test your kungfu so that the next time you will know not just walk into a shop to rob. But I don’t have any weapons with me, and you are holding double sabres.”
The leader replied, “Who are you? What’s your name?”
“I’m a cook here, and my name is Cheah Pak. What is yours?”
The gang leader took off his mask, and replied, “I do not change my name while sitting, or change my name while traveling. (This was a common saying in Chinese to emphasize that one never changed his name.) I am called Ma Hoi Sing.”
Seeing that Cheah Pak did not have any weapon, Ma Hoi Sing placed his two sabres on a table, and said, “I can fight you unarmed.”
Cheah Pak and Ma Hoi Sing chose a space near the door with no tables around. They each adopted a poise pattern. Cheah Pak stood at a lift-stance with his arms apart, in a pattern called “Beggar Asking for Food.” It looked open and inviting, but a skillful martial artist could respond effectively when an opponent attacked.
Ma Hoi Sing stood in a left bow-arrow stance with his left hand in front of his right hand, guarding his body. This was a common pattern used by northern style martial artists. True enough as northern kungfu styles were known for their agility, Ma Hoi Sing moved in swiftly with a right punch in a right bow-arrow stance.
Cheah Pak retreated his front right leg, warded off the thrust punch with his left hand, moved his left leg forward in a bow-arrow stance and struck out his right fist, in a pattern known as “Black Tiger Steals Heart”. His punch was full of power.
Ma Hoi Sing pulled back his right bow-arrow stance into a right lift-leg stance, still with his right leg in front but avoided the full force of Cheah Pak’s punch. Simultaneously he changed his right punch into a hook-hand by holding his five fingers together like a crane-beak, and hooked away the punch. Immediately be moved forward his right leg into a bow-arrow stance, and struck the opponent’s face with his left palm.
The two combatants exchanged many encounters. For a time it was uncertain who would be the winner.
From a side by observing Ma Hoi Sing’s movements, Luk Ah Choy was quite certain that he was a northern kungfu exponent, especially when he used a pair of sabres. A southern kungfu exponent would only use one sabre.
(Kungfu was generally divided into northern styles and southern styles. Northern styles were centred around the Shaolin Monastery at Henan in the north, and included kungfu styles like Chaquan, Huaquan, Hongquan, Tantui, Eagle Claw, and Praying Mantis. Taijiquan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang were also considered as northern styles. Southern styles were centred around the Shaolin Monastery in Fujian in the south, and included the five family styles of Hoong, Lau, Choy, Li and Mok, as well as Wing Choon and Choy-Li-Fatt.)
After many exchanges, Ma Hoi Sing used his left palm to strike at Cheah Pak’s face. Cheah Pak warded off with his left hand. Immediately Ma Hoi Sing struck the opponent’s face with his right palm. Cheah Pak warded off the attack with his right hand. But the two palm strikes were feign moves to distract the opponent. Instantly Ma Hoi Sing opened Cheah Pak’s defending hands, and kicked up his right leg at Cheah Pak’s chest, so fast that Cheah Pak could not avoid, and fell back a few feet. He hit an empty chair, then fell to the floor.
Ma Hoi Sing attained his intention that he forgot his appearance (i.e. he was glad he attained his intention of defeating Cheah Pak that his conduct and appearance became bizarre). He turned round to look at Luk Ah Choy.
“Just now your secret weapons disarmed by brothers, though I could deflect them. Using secret weapons is not honorable,” he said.
“Coming in with masks and in black dresses to rob is also not honorable,” Luk Ah Choy replied.
For a short while, words failed him. Then he asked, “Would you like to exchange a few moves with me?”
“As you have asked, I shall oblige,” answered Luk Ah Choy.
One day a Shaolin student called Lai Fu wanted to fight his way through the Lane of Wooden Men. But after a short while, Lai Fu was screaming in the chamber. He was badly hurt by the Wooden Men.
The Venerable Chee Seen ordered the operation mechanism of the Wooden Men be turned off, and Lai Fu to be carried out. After applying medicine on him, and resting for a few days, Lai Fu felt better.
But he was depressed. He had been learning kungfu in the Shaolin Monastery for more than ten years, but now he could not pass through the Wooden Men. Anyone who could not graduate from the Lane of Wooden Men had to remain in the monastery, no matter for how long he had been there.
Lai Fu realized that earlier Wu Wei Thein was in the same situation. Wu Wei Thien could not fight his way through the Wooden Men, and had to crawl out of the monastery through a drainage hole.
But since that time, an iron grill was made to cover the hole. Water could flow through the grill, but it prevented any human from crawling through it. Lai Fu thought hard and found a solution. Every day, without other people knowing, he took some vinegar from the kitchen and pour the vinegar at the iron grill.
After repeating the action for a month, the vinegar ate into the iron making the iron grill fragile. One late, after he had made sure everyone else was sleeping soundly, he went quietly to the drainage hole. He bent down so that he would not be noticeable and used an iron staff to hit hard at the iron grill. After some hitting, the iron grill collapsed and he crawled through the drainage hole. Outside the monastery wall, he knelt down, knocked his head three times on the ground, and then hurried down the mountain.
Early next morning, some monks on duty discovered that the iron grill at the drainage hole was broken. They quickly sounded the monastery bell to alert all those in the monastery.
All the monks and students of the Shaolin Monastery gathered at the main hall. Chee Seen called the register and found that Lai Fu was missing.
Chee Seen was very angry. “Where is Luk Ah Choy?” he shouted.
Luk Ah Choy came forward and knelt down, “Here is disciple ready to take sifu’s order.”
“Descend the mountain immediately, and bring Lai Fu back.”
Luk Ah Choy left the Shaolin Monastery, He searched in the day time and slept at night, ate when hungry and drank when thirsty. After a few days he came to a small town. He found an eating shop at a main street.
He could smell the aroma of rice, and felt he was hungry. So he entered the shop and looked around to find a table to have his meal.
To his utter surprise, he found a familiar face sitting at a corner. He was Lai Fu, the man he had been searching for many days.
Luk Ah Choy approached Lai Fu, and said, “I never expected to see you here.”
Lai Fu was shocked. He asked his siheng (or elder kungfu brother) to sit down.
“I am under the order of our sifu to bring you back to the Shaolin Monastery,” Luk Ah Choy went straight to his mission.
“Luk Siheng,” Lai Fu pleaded, “Please don’t come forward.” He quickly grasped his iron staff which was leaning against a wall.
“What do you want to do? Just a few movements with your staff, you think you can stop me? Quickly put away your staff, and follow me back to the monastery. Otherwise don’t blame me for not thinking of our joss sticks and candles relationship (i.e. we came from the same kungfu lineage, as joss sticks and candles were used to worship past masters).”
Lai Fu knew very well he would not be a match against Luk Ah Choy. He quickly put away his staff and cried, “Siheng, Lai Fu is here. You can hit or kill me if you want.”
“I am here under sifu’s order to bring you back to the monastery. When you left secretly, sifu was very angry. He ordered me to descend the mountain to search for you. No matter how long the time, I may wander over the edges of heaven and the corners of seas (i.e. everywhere), I must catch you. What has happened is due to your own making. Please don’t blame me for not being your siheng.”
Lai Fu dropped his head and said, “Siheng acts under order. How can little brother blame you? But you and I have been in the monastery for many years, and I don’t think you will see me suffer without extending any help. If I follow you back to the monastery, what kind of punishment I shall receive, you already knew. If siheng can open a bit of the net (i.e. let me escape, like in fishing, open the net to let the fish escape), little brother will appreciate your blessings without end.”
Luk Ah Choy shook his head and sighed. “It is easy to say. You must know my difficulty. If I let you go, how can I report to sifu?”
Lai Fu dropped his head and remained silent. Then suddenly he said, “Not wrong. I know siheng’s difficulty. But secretly escaping from the monastery is not me alone. As far as I know, Wu Wei Thien was one who secretly escaped from the monastery. Why not punish him, and just punish me?”
Luk Ah Choy replied, “How can you compare yourself with Wu Wei Thien? Sifu can forgive him because he has good reasons.”
“Wu Wei Thien and me secretly escaped from the monastery. Why can’t I use it for comparison? What is there any difference between he and me?”
“Wu Wei Thien escaped because of his filial heart. So we all can understand him and admire him. Sifu can forgive him.”
Lai Fu replied, “Siheng Wu’s escape was due to his filial heart. Isn’t my escape due to my filial heart too?” I also have a father and a mother. I have entered the Shaolin Monastery for ten years. Because I am stupid, my kungfu progress is not great, I cannot pass through the Lane of Wooden Men. As if I am stupid, I cannot see my father and mother?
“Siheng, you were also born from your father and your mother. Being a son or daughter, who does not think of his or her own father and mother? Moreover, I have been in the monastery for ten years. This time my escape was due to the binding of bitterness of thinking of my father and mother. Thus I used such a mean method. It was not because I purposely wanted to break monastery rules.
“But events have come to this rice field (i.e. come to this stage). I do not think of being lucky again. Today If I die here, I do not have any angry words. A few days ago I have returned home to meet my parents.”
Saying this, his eyes were filled with tears, and he swallowed his voice.
Luk Ah Choy also dropped his head without his own knowing. He thought silently to himself, “His secret escape is also due to his feeling for his father and mother. This feeling was human in all heaven and earth. He himself did not have any trace of being tied or dependent on any support because he had lost his parents when small. Otherwise, he would not be able to release himself from such emotion. Moreover, this time descending the mountain to catch Lai Fu was he alone. If he let Lai Fu go, no one would know.
When his heart was moved, his hands became soft. He signed and said, “According to reasons, an order from sifu cannot be avoided. But thinking that your action came from your filial heart, I’ll let you go to reverence your father and mother.
“But what happened today must never leak out. Otherwise it will not be good for you or me. I hope you can appreciate my bitter heart (i.e. my intention which is difficult to make). When you return, reverence your father and mother, that will do.”
Lai Fu was touched until his tears and mucus flowed out profusely. Quickly he knelt down to thank Luk Ah Choy.
Luk Ah Choy said, “I can’t accept such a big ceremony (i.e. kneeling down to thank him). You better hurry away,”
Lai Fu grasped his iron staff, ran out of the shop, and fled like a comet.
One day the Venerable Chee Seen said to Luk Ah Choy, “You have been in the Shaolin Monastery for many years. It is time to test you skills. All those who learn Shaolin Kungfu from me must go through the Lane of Wooden Men to pass a graduation test. You are qualified now. You should try your skills against the Wooden Men.”
Luh Ah Choy was very happy. He prostrated to his sifu, the Venerable Chee Seen, and early next morning he went to the Lane of Wooden Men.
The mechanism of the one hundred and eight Wooden Men was set in operation. These wooden men were so ingeniously devised that they fought with good kungfu techniques and skills. But Luk Ah Choy’s kungfu was excellent. He avoided some wooden men, fell some, pushed away some, jumped over the heads of a few, and fought his way through the lane.
At the exit, he found a large copper urn with three joss sticks burning. The large copper urn barred the way of the doorway. To exit, Luk Ah Choy had to lift the urn, turned his body around, and then exited with his back. Two marks, a dragon on his left arm and a tiger on his right arm, were imprinted on his two arms as marks of one who had successfully fought his way through the Lane of Wooden Men in Shaolin Monastery.
The Venerable Chee Seen was very pleased. “He has not forsaken my bitter heart (i.e. my long time and earnest effort in teaching him),” he said to himself.
Chee Seen returned to his meditation room and sat down to rest. Then, Luk Ah Choy hurriedly came back.
In surprise, Chee Seen asked, “Why are you back?”
Luk Ah Choy knelt down and said, “In these many years, sifu has sacrificed heart and blood (i.e. has sacrificed very much) to teach me kungfu. Even if my body turns to powder and my bones are crashed, I cannot repay sifu one out of a million. Today, although I have successfully fought myself through the Lane of Wooden Men, I realize that my kungfu is still far from excellence. I wish to remain in the monastery to continue practicing kungfu for a few more years to overcome my weakness. I hope sifu can give his permission.”
Chee Seen rubbed his palms together and replied, “Very good. If you have such an empty heart (i.e. you are humble), you can remain in the monastery. In future, if you meet anybody who can teach you something new, you can learn from him without first seeking my permission.”
(It was usual for a student to seek his sifu’s permission before learning something new from another person.)
Soon, deep autumn arrived. The scenery of the mountain became cool and fragile, the solitary monastery was deep and recurring, a role of chrysanthemum flowers swayed in the breeze, and myriad dew drops were found on wild grasses. Luk Ah Choy was taking a stroll in the back garden, and heard sounds of strange creatures in the distance, and found red leaves floating in the air, creating in his heart a sense of peace and tranquility.
Suddenly he heard something clear and distinct, like something hitting a wooden floor. Luk Ah Choy was curious, followed the clear and distinct sound, and hid himself behind an old tree. He saw a monk practicing kungfu.
The monk placed a wooden board, with a target on it, tens of steps before him. He waved his hands and countless iron pebbles hit the target.
Luk Ah Choy could not determine what type of kungfu it was. But each time the monk moved his hand, like a string of winds, iron pebbles would hit the target. Without realizing, he gave a cry, “Marvelous.”
The monk stopped his training, turned around and asked, “Who? Who is there?”
Luk Ah Choy had to come out of his hiding, bent his body in greeting, and found that the monk was one of Chee Seen’s assistant instructors called “Cheong Mong” (which meant “Running Elephant”). Immediately Luk Ah Choy said, “Student intrudes into your spiritual presence. I earnestly beg your pardon.”
“We have been together for a long time. There is no need for courtesy. Just now you cried out a word of praise. Were you happy with what you saw?”
“Student is ignorant. I wonder what type of weapon the iron pebbles sifu trained just now, belongs to? I hope sifu can enlighten me.”
“They are called iron drakes and ducks, and are a form of secret weapons.”
(A drake and a duck were always in pair. They were colorful.)
Luk Ah Choy was very happy. Since training kungfu for many years, he had never seen or understood secret weapons. So he immediately gave a greeting and said, ”Student is really lucky to be able to see the ultimate art of sifu. Student knows nothing about secret weapon. I wonder whether sifu can grace student, and teach student a thing or two?”
An old picture showing Grandmaster Wong in a half-lotus position for silent Zen sitting
One day the Venerable Chee Seen (which meant “Extreme Kindness”) asked Luk Ah Choy to his meditation chamber, and said, “Ah Choy, at what stage do you think your kungfu performance has attained?”
Luk Ah Choy replied, “Sifu, I dare not say that my kungfu is perfect, but I am quite satisfied with my progress.”
Chee Seen said, “There are unicorns and phoenixes among living things. Human have meridians and energy points. Unless we have experienced it, it is difficult to discuss our attainment. Those who don’t have direct experience, can say how advanced their arts are, though they are actually not advanced.“
Luk Ah Choy knelt down and said, “Student does not understand the depth of sifu’s explanation. Can sifu please point and dot (i.e. enlighten)?”
The Venerable Chee Seen asked Luk Ah Choy to stand firmly at his stance, then with his dragon-form fingers (formed by bending the thumb, the fourth finger and the small finger, and letting the index finger and middle finger pointing forward) gently dotted at an energy point called “yun men” (at the joint where the arm joined the shoulder). Luk Ah Choy felt his body numb and was thrown back a few feet.
Chee Seen transmitted chi, or vital energy, into Luk Ah Choy to clear the blockage he caused with his dim-mark, or dotting energy points, technique. After a while, Chee Seen took a wooden staff , hit Luk Ah Choy’s head, and said, “Do you understand now?”
Chee Seen sat on a mat in a lotus poise, and said, “Buddhism is very deep. At its shallow levels, there are explanations on various topics. At its deep levels, it is difficult to explain. Our patriarch, Bodhidharma, transmitted the art knowledge and the art without words. He pointed directly at the heart (which means ‘mind’ in English, and is different from brain).
“Seeing Nature (i.e. transcendental Cosmic Reality, often called God in Western culture), one becomes Buddha (i.e. merges with transcendental Cosmic Reality without any differentiation). This is Chan (or Zen).
“Chan values silent understanding, and cherishes liberation (i.e. the personal soul is liberated to meet the Universal Soul). The art is entering silence (called “meditation” in Western languages), with direct experience as the spiritual gate (i.e. in his training, one has to directly experience its result).
“Only then, can you say you are enlightened. Thus, your nature must be quiet, and your heart empty (i.e. to experience transcendental Cosmic Reality, you must be quiet, and you must not have any thoughts), be liberated from all worries, and overcome the hurdles of life and death.
“Then you are majestic, without any blockage and without any fear. Your enter Nirvana, where there is no spiritual ways, no me and no entities.”
For a time Luk Ah Choy understood, for a time he did not. He remained kneeling on the floor, dazed and bewildered.
The Venerable Chee Seen continued, “The training of external art is the business of the physical body, bones and tendons. The cultivation of internal art is the nourishment of life, essence and spirit. It is difficult to separate the two, but it is also the ultimate of ‘steams and lakes’ (i.e. martial art circles). When the two arts are united, it is the ultimate, marvelous art.”
These words were like morning bells and evening drums (i.e. words of enlightenment, as bells and drums were sounded in temples in the morning and the evening to enlighten people). The heart cavity (i.e. the mind and understanding) of Luk Ah Choy opened and became clear. Again he knelt and thanked the Venerable Chee Seen three times.
Since then, Luk Ah Choy increased his diligence and benefits. Within two years, he gradually understood the three tastes of internal art (i.e. all of internal art). He practiced well the genuine techniques of Shaolin, like dragon traveling, bear claws, eagle eyes, monkey paws, crane steps, snake movement, bird jumping, cat dodging, dog avoiding, leopard fists, rabbit running, lion catching, and tiger charging. Whether it was long fist or short strike, attacking or defending, moving forward or retreating, there was nothing that his heart reached essence and ultimate attainment (i.e. he did them excellently).
Grandmaster Wong demonstrating a pattern from Southern Shaolin Kungfu
Li Chooi Peng wrote a letter of recommendation for Luk Ah Choy. Then she told him, “Since the burning of the Shaolin Monastery, my sifu wanders like clouds. I don’t know where he is, but he is often in Guangzhou.“
Luk Ah Choy knew that the Venerable Chee Seen was a top master of kungfu. Many people wanted to learn from him, but were unsuccessful.
Luk Ah Choy went about in search of Chee Seen. He saw a temple with the sign showing “Six-Birth Monastery”. He went forward and was met by a monk on duty.
“Generous donor has come to this humble monastery. Can you please tell me how I may help?”
(Monasteries were supported by donations from the public. “Generous donors” was the usual address for people.)
“I just want to know whether the Venerable Chee Seen is staying here.”
“The Venerable Chee Seen is a high-level monk. He wanders everywhere. But he is not in our monastery. Perhaps generous donor can find out from another monastery.”
Luk Ah Choy had been to many monasteries, like “Glorious Filial Monastery”, “Beautiful Forst Monastery”, and “Big Buddha Monastery”, but could not find the Venerable Chee Seen. Some said that he was at the Elixir-Mist Mountain, and some said he had returned to Fujian Province to rebuild the Shaolin Monastery. But Luk Ah Choy did not give up.
He continued to search, and had walked all over the two provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. One day Luk Ah Choy came to a deserted mountain. All around there was no individuals and no smoke (i.e. no families whose houses gave out smoke from their chimneys). There was only a clump of black forest. He wanted to climb higher to release the hindrance in his heart.
So he used his art of lightness and ran up the summit. He saw a temple wall, and at the entrance were written “Shaolin Monastery”. He was shock. He knew that there were two monasteries called “Shaolin Monastery”, one in the north on Song Mountain in Henan and the other in the south in Potian in Fujian Province. He never knew that on this wild mountain there was another Shaolin Monastery.
(Historical accounts mentioned that the southern Shaolin Monastery was at the City of Quanzhou in Fujian Province. The northern Shaolin Monastery was at the Song Mountain in Henan Province. Not many people know that the third Shaolin Monastery was located on Nine-Lotus Mountain, also in Fujian Province.)
Luk Ah Choy entered the monastery. A monk came forward to meet him. “Generous donor,” the monk said, “Is there any matter?”
“I came in search of the Venerable Chee Seen. I passed this way and found your monastery pure and beautiful. Hence, I enter to pray.”
The monk laughed. “If generous donor wants to find the Venerable Chee Seen, where would generous donor go? The Venerable Chee Seen is the abbot of this monastery.”
Luk Ah Choy was both surprised and happy. “Please, great teacher, lead the way.”
The monk led him through the main hall, and went to the east meditation hall, where they found an elderly monk writing on a table. This monk was tall, glowing in the face, his eye brows were elegant like a mountain stream, his chest contained the mechanism of heaven and earth, his eyes like comets, and his radiance shot at others. Luk Ah Choy knew this must be the Venerable Chee Seen. So he knelt down and presented the jade pendant.
The monk put away his brush and smilingly said, “Where does this wild person come from, and prostrated here?”
Luk Ah Choy answered, “Student Luk Ah Choy prostrate to the great Venerable Spiritual Teacher.” He took out the recommendation letter from Li Chooi Peng.
After reading the letter, the monk laughed, “The little woman is too busy. She specially gives this monk difficult problems.”
Facing Luk Ah Choy, he said, “I am Chee Seen. You are keen to learn kungfu. This intention is worthy of congratulations. But life in the monastery is pure and simple, and its rules very strike. I don’t know whether you can tolerate it.”
Luk Ah Choy replied, “Student can tolerate.”
Chee Seen continued, “Whoever comes to practice kungfu in the monastery, must wait till his skills are rounded and his practice full (i.e. till his graduation), then he is allowed to return. Otherwise, irrespective of birth, age, sickness or death, no one is permitted to leave the mountain gate half a step. This is not purposely make life difficult for those who want to practice kungfu, but to ensure that whoever graduates from the gate of this old monk is an expert, so as not to insult the reputation of Shaolin.”
Luk Ah Chou replied, “Student is willing to forever follow teacher’s advice.”
The Venerable Chee Seen nodded his head, and said, “Then, you can remain in the monastery.” He continued his writing. Luk Ah Choy did not dare to say further. He withdrew himself.
Hence, Luk Ah Choy remained in the monastery. He helped in the kitchen to cook, he fetched water or chopped firewood, or he swept the monastery to keep it clean. He was diligent. But Chee Seen seemed to have forgotten such a person existed. Not only he did not teach Luk Ah Choy any kungfu, he did not ask about him at all. A month soon passed.
Luk Ah Choy did not mind at all. Although Chee Seen did not teach him anything new, every night he would secretly practice what he had learned before.
One night he passed Chee Seen’s sleeping room. He noticed that a light shone through a narrow gap in the door, and from inside was heard striking with hands and kicking with legs.
Luk Ah Choy was curious. Secretly he went to the narrow gap to have a peep. He was shock at what he saw. Chee Seen was practicing kungfu in his room. It was different from what Luk Ah Choy had seen before all his life. He did not want to leave.
So every night he stole to have a peep at the narrow gap of Chee Seen’s door. Chee Seen’s movements and techniques were impressed in his mind. He diligently practiced the movements and techniques, and his kungfu progressed tremendously.
Actually Chee Seen knew that Luk Ah Choy peeped at the door every night, but Chee Seen did not reveal it. He wanted to test Luk Ah Choy’s appreciation of Zen. For many months, he observed Luk Ah Choy, and found him full of energy and rich in spirit, his body was healthy and strong, and knew that Luk Ah Choy was wise, capable attaining what most people could not attain.
One day, Chee Seen asked Luk Ah Choy to see him, and asked Luk Ah Choy to demonstrate a kungfu set. Luk Ah Choy was very happy. He showed what he had been secretly viewing.
Chee Seen nodded and smiled, and silently said to himself, “He has not forsaken my bitter heart (i.e. he has not missed what I have secretly and ardently shown him).“ But outwardly, he acted as if he was very surprised, “What you showed just now are secrets not taught to other people. Besides me and a few inner-chamber disciples, no one knows them. From where did you learn them?”
“Sifu pardons me, then only dare I speak.”
“I won’t punish you. Don’t hide anything.”
Luk Ah Choy then told the Venerable Chee Seen that for many months, he “stole” the art by observing his sifu practicing in his room.”
(In kungfu culture, stealing an art means not learning directly from ones teacher, but by observing his teacher or other students practicing it.)
The Venerable Chee Seen laughed out loudly. Lifting Luk Ah Choy up by his hand, he said, “You have used your bitter heart (i.e. you were determined in your effort, and are honest about it), how can I punish you? But what you have seen is actually ‘little skill to carve some worms’ (i.e. little art that did not go deeply). I have ‘not-two spiritual gate’ (i.e. an unparallel, deep art) to transmit to you.”
Luk Ah Choy was happy like being mad. He prostrated before his sifu. Under the guidance of Chee Seen, he ‘manifested courage and forgot his food’ (i.e. he showed courage in his learning , and was so diligent that he sometimes forgot about his meals), and often discussed and practiced with other monks in the monastery, that ‘benefited in essence and aimed at essence’ (i.e. he was already excellent as he knew the essence, but he aimed to be even better to know more essence). In about half a year, his martial art progressed tremendously.
Luk Ah Choy packed his belongings, bade his sifu good-bye and descended the mountain. The evening sun was sinking in the west, and yellow leaves covered the whole mountain, fresh wind blew gently, creating a beautiful scene.
At night Luk Ah Choy travelled fast, covering more than a hundred miles. Early next morning he arrived at a small town and went into a small eating place.
Entered two persons, a fat one with fair skin and the other thin like a monkey. The two of them sat near a window. They ordered two katis of beef, half a katy of pork, a whole roast goose, a barrel of white rice and two huge jars of wine.
(A katy was a Chinese measurement of weight. In modern China, a katy is about 500 grams.)
Luk Ah Choy was very surprised. These two persons were not “rice barrels” (i.e. one who ate a lot of rice), how could they contain so much material. But these two persons were like “tigers devouring and wolves swallowing” (i.e. eat heartily and hungrily), like wild breeze sweeping fallen leaves, and ate all. Luk Ah Choy heard that fat people might eat many times that of ordinary people, but he had not seen thin people have such appetite.
After eating, they left some money on the table, without waiting for chances. Then swaying freely, they left the eating place. Luk Ah Choy followed them. Sometimes they talked softly, sometimes they laughed loudly. Their moements were extraordinary, and their behavior was unlike ordinary people.
Soon they reached the front of an ancient temple. There were two stone lions in front. The two persons sat on the stone steps of the temple to enjoy some cooling breeze.
The fat person said, “Today we drank some wine. Indeed it is very hot.”
The thin person smilingly replied, “You fat people are scared of heat. There is a colloquial saying that out of ten persons afraid of heat, nine are fat.”
The fat person said, “We have been walking for some time, and there was not even a need to show our kungfu. Why not we test our strength, and see who can lift up this stone lion?”
The thin person jumped up from where he was sitting. “That’s good. I was thinking how much had I increased my strength.”
Luk Ah Choy was listening behind some bushes. Hearing this, his eyes became bigger and rounder.
The fat person had a good look at the stone lion. He adopted his stance, and held out his two hands to hold the head and the tail of the stone lion. One could see soil around the stone lion rising. With a shout he lifted up the lion. Then he carefully placed the lion back to its original place.”
“Too heavy, too heavy,” he shook his head.
The thin person said, “Now let me try.“
He approached the stone lion. Then he adopted a Horse-Riding Stance, and place his right hand beneath the stomach of the stone lion, and his left hand at a leg. Giving a shout, “Up”, the stone lion was lifted up above his head. He walked a few steps and then replaced the stone lion at its original place.
Unable to control himself, Luk Ah Choy cried out aloud, “Good!”
“Who?” the two persons turned their head and asked.
Luk Ah Choy came out and with a greeting he said, “I witness the marvelous strength of the two sifus, and deeply admire them. My uncontrollable shout disturb the two sifus. I beg your pardon.”
(“Sifu” meaning “teacher-father” referred to ones kungfu teacher. But the term was often used to address someone good in kungfu.)
The two persons surveyed Luk Ah Choy. The thin person smilingly said, “If you see us testing our strength, you must be one from the kungfu circles. If you don’t mind, please show us something before leaving.”
Luk Ah Choy replied with another greeting, “What I have learnt is only skin and hair (i.e. superficial). How dare I demonstrate? I beg your leave.”
The fat person refused to let Luk Ah Choy leave. Luk Ah Choy had no choice, and said, “Please teach me”. Then he demonstrated a kungfu set.
The two persons were surprised. “Your kungfu set has a great history. It is similar to what we practice. Please tell us who is your sifu.”
Luk Ah Choy replied, “He is a monk from the Shaolin Monastery.”
The two persons laughed out loudly. The fat person said, “In the midst of wind and dust (i.e. in the phenomenal everyday world), we haven’t thought we could meet someone from the same root. This is due to the good karma of our previous lives (i.e. we must have done something good in our previous lives).
“Nevertheless, from your body and hands (i.e. the performance of your kungfu set), you still lack two or three out of ten, and is not to say that you don’t have any setbacks in your art. Based on that we come from the same lineage, I can’t tolerate to let you missing something in your art. Now I give you a gift. You go to a certain place to meet Li Chooi Peng. She will enable you to attain your supreme height.”
He took out a small jade pendant and gave it to Luk Ah Choy.
Luk Ah Cloy thanked them again and again. He said, “The two sifus are like clouds in the sky. But I haven’t known your great names.”
The fat person said, “I’m called Sap Kit (“Sap Kit” is in Cantonese pronunciation. In Mandarin pronunciation it is called “Si Jie”. The written words are the same.” “Sap Kit” means “Ten Genius”.
The thin person also said, “My name is also Sap Kit.”
(The two persons called themselves “Sap Kit” because they were two of the ten best disciples of the Venerable Chee Seen, the First Partriarch of Southern Shaolin Kungfu. Their actual names were Thong Chein Kern and Lai Pak Fu. The other eight geniuses or best disciples were Wen Leong Yuk, Hoong Hei Khoon, Luk Ah Choy, Fong Sai Yuk, Li Chooi Peng, Fong Mei Yuk, Fong How Yuk, and Wu Wei Thien.
Other sources listed the ten great disciples of the Venerable Chee Seen as the Venerable Harng Yein, the Venerable Sam Tuck, Hoong Hei Khoon, Lin Swee Heng, Luk Ah Choy, Thong Chein Kern, Miu Chooi Fa, Fong Sai Yuk, Li Chooi Peng, and Ma Ling Ye.
This was possible because the ten best disciples were selected from annual free sparring, where there were no rules and combatants could hit as hard as they wanted. But they always controlled themselves and stopped just before target. There were many such annual free sparring when Chee Seen was at the southern Shaolin Monastery on Nine-Lotus Mountain.)
Without saying another word, the thin and the fat persons walked away, without even turning their head. Luk Ah Choy just watched their backs and realized they were very odd. How could they both be Sap Kit. Obviously it was not their actual names. He realized that all great people outside the world (i.e. extraordinary people) were odd.
Luk Ah Choy searched for about a month according to the address given by the fat person, and finally found a house in a small village outside the city of Guangzhou. The house was humble, and an old woman was outside the house knitting some clothing.
Luk Ah Choy went forward and asked, “Old grandmother, is this the house of Mr Li Chooi Peng?”
The old woman was surprised. “Yes,” she answered.
“Is Mr Li Chooi Peng at home?”
The old woman looked at Luk Ah Choy closely, then asked in return, “Why do you want to see Chooi Peng?”
Luk Ah Choy took out the piece of jade pendant, and replied, “A friend asked me to meet him.”
The old woman examined the jade pendant for a long time, then said, “Please wait here.” She turned her head and shouted, “Chooi Peng, come quickly. Someone wants to see you.”
Inside the house somebody answered in a young girl’s voice. Luk Ah Choy was surprised. Then he realized. Li Chooi Peng was a young girl. No wonder the old woman looked at him with strange eyes just now.
The old woman told Luk Ah Choy, “This is Li Chooi Peng.”
Luk Ah Choy conveyed his greeting. Then he presented the jade pendant and explained what had happened in front of the old temple.
Li Chooi Peng closed her mouth with her hands and laughed. “That is the trouble with my two sihengs (i.e. elder kungfu brothers). If they want to help others, they can just straight away ask sifu (i.e. kungfu teacher). Why must they spend extra effort?”
The old woman added, “I can understand why they did this. It is because the Venerable Chee Seen loves you. It does not matter what the problem is, if there is any request, it will be answered. So they first pass through your hurdle, they can save a lot of energy and strength.”
Li Chooi Peng just nodded her head, and she felt satisfied. She invited Luk Ah Choy to enter her house and asked him a number of questions, like where he came from, and how long he had practiced kungfu. Luk Ah Choy answered truthfully.
Li Chooi Peng said, “You have practiced kungfu for many years. Your kungfu foundation is not shallow. You also come from the same kungfu lineage. I must therefore help you. But do you know who the two persons outside the old temple were? Both of them are my sihengs (i.e. elder kungfu brothers). One of them is called Thong Chein Kern (or Thousand Pounds Thong, as he could lift a weight of a thousand pounds) and the other is Lai Pak Fu. Both are disciples of the Venerable Chee Seen.”
(In some accounts, Luk Ah Choy was mentioned as the siheng, or senior kungfu brother, of Li Chooi Peng, Thong Chein Kern and Lai Pak Fu under the Venerable Chee See. Here he was mentioned as their sidai, or junior kungfu brother.)
A pattern from Southern Shaolin Kungfu, “One-Finger Stabilize Empire”
Martial art has been classified into two groups, internal and external and northern and southern. Actually they came from the same source. Since the Venerable Da Mo, or the Venerable Bodhidharma, arrived and invented Eighteen Lohan Hands, the Wudang patriarch, Thong Yun Real Man, Zhang San Feng, after receiving the true transmission of Shaolin, invented internal school, henceforth martial art was divided two branches of Shaolin and Wudang.
External school of martial art derived from Shaolin, regulated breathing, trained hundred bones, be agile in moving forward and backward, and focused on being hard and soft. Internal art derived from Wudang, strengthened tendons and bones, developed circulation of energy, maintained silence to subdue movement, and focused on being quiescence.
The Shaolin Monastery in Fujian Province succeeded from the Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province, but its martial art developed as its own system, its mastery deep, its changes marvelous, and its Shaolin disciples achieved the level of what people hoped but could not attain. After the monastery was burnt to the ground, martial art of Shaolin monks in the temple flowed like wind and dispersed like snow, flowed into the public.
Having gained the advantage of geography, in a few years Guangdong Province became a place for heroes and prosperity. There were “Ten Tigers of Guangdong”, who were Iron Bridge Three, Wong Thung Ho, Tham Chai Wen, Lai Yein Chiew, Beggar Su, Iron Finger Chan, Chow Thai, Wong Yein Lam, Black Tiger Su, and Wong Kai Yin. There were extraordinary and beyond the public.
Before the Ten Tigers were known in the world, the one who had the wind of righteousness and bones of chivalry, and greatly respected by the public was Luk Ah Choy.
Luk Ah Choy was a Manchurian, but had lived in Guangdong for a long time. When he was small, both his parents died, and he was looked after by an uncle. But his uncle was unkind to him, not feeding him enough to fill his stomach, and not clothing him enough to warm him, and he was often hit as punishment.
Luk Ah Choy could not stand the inhumanity, and ran away. At that time he was only twelve years old. When wind blew gently and the moon was cold (i.e. when the weather was chilly), he would sit alone in a shed which stored wood, and thought to himself that had his parents were alive, he would not suffer such bitterness, and his tears from his eyes and mucus from his nose would flow down.
Since he was small, Luk Ah Choy had developed a solitary character, everyday he was not happy, silent and rarely spoke, and whenever he was off from work, he liked to wander about alone in the city so as to erase his suffering and eliminate his loneliness.
One day there was a stage showing drama to thanks gods in heaven. Luk Ah Choy went there alone to watch. All around the stage was crowded with people, layers and layers of humanity, not less than thousands of citizens. His body is short and small, even when he was on his toes, he could not see the stage. So he crawled beneath people’s legs to find a space where he could view.
There was a monk in front of the stage watching the play. Luk Ah Choy stood behind the monk, but the monk was huge and Luk Ah Choy could not see anything on stage. So he moved to stand in front of the monk.
After a short while, before a song sung by an actor was completed, Luk Ah Choy found a hand grasping him. He looked back and found the monk placing him underneath the monk’s armpit. The monk walked away, and although Luk Ah Choy tried to struggle free, he remained grasped by the powerful monk.
They went quite far into a country-side where no inhabitants lived. After traveling for a long time, they entered a small, old temple. Placing Luk Ah Choy on the floor, the monk sat on a mat and started to meditate.
It was like a dream. Luk Ah Choy looked around and found the temple isolated. He did not hear any sounds of drums or bells, or wooden fish (which were used to keep rhythm when chanting sutras). There were no other monks. Outside the small temple were wild grass and fallen leaves.
The monk was meditating, the sound from his nose was like thunder. Luh Ah Choy was furious. He ran towards the monk and hit him with random fists.
The monk opened his eyes and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I don’t have any grudges with you. Why do you bring me here?”
The monk smilingly replied, “You have hands and feet. I didn’t tie you with ropes. If you want to go, go!”
Luk Ah Choy started to cry. “You have brought me to this steep cliff. How can I go? You must carry me down the hill.”
“Do you think that when you have descended the hill, you can return to your home? Let me tell you. Your home is very far away, and you don’t recognize the route. You just feed tigers and wolves as their meals.”
Luk Ah Choy could only cry. The monk then said, “Start thinking. Why do I carry you here?”
“You want me to be your servant?” Luk Ah Choy replied. The monk shook his head.
“You want me to be a monk so that you can have some company?”
The monk held his stomach and laughed loudly. “You don’t have pure and quiet bones, how can you enter the Buddhist faith?”
Luk Ah Choy thought for a long time. Then he said, “Right, I have thought out the answer. You must want to accept me as your student.”
The monk rubbed his palms and said, “Goodness, goodness! Since you can realize my thought, from now onwards you are my student.”
As Luk Ah Choy lost his parents when small, and he was alone and had no other intention, he knelt down and accepted the monk as his sifu, or kungfu master.
“Sifu,” Luk Ah Choy asked, “May I know your spiritual name?”
“My name is not important. What is important is that you must learn kungfu seriously.”
Henceforth, the two persons addressed each other as sifu and student. Day and night, they trained kungfu in the small temple and around it. Every morning the monk led Luk Ah Choy downhill to fetch water from a stream. They did not use a beam carried on their shoulders.
The water containers were made of iron and had a pointed bottom., so they could not put down the containers to rest. They had to grip the water containers with their two hands and ran up a hilly road up to the temple.
At first Luk Ah Choy found it very difficult, but gradually he was accustomed to it. After some time, he could run up and down the hill a few times without much effort.
One day, teacher and pupil returned to the temple after fetching water. The teacher asked his pupil, “Do you know the intention of me asking you to fetch water everyday?”
“Pupil does not know.”
“There is some secret art in asking you to fetch water. Because the bottom of the water container is pointed, you cannot rest on the way, otherwise the water will spill off. The route you take is narrow and hilly, so that you have to focus on your route, and you cannot merely walk. I let you to undergo such training so that your bridges (i.e. your arms) and foundation (i.e. your stability and agility of footwork) without your knowing gradually become powerful.
Lu Ah Choy quickly knelt down to thank his sifu.
Henceforth, Luk Ah Choy further increased his subduing bitterness and sustaining endurance, added to his diligence in kungfu training, even the monk was surprised at his progress. Within a few years, Luk Ah Choy learned the martial art “emerging from spirit and entering neutralization” (i.e. extremely well).
One day, the monk said to Luk Ah Choy, “Ah Choy, do you know how many years you have been here?”
“Student does not know.”
“Soon we have to separate. I have to tell you that you have remained in the temple for seven years. During this time, I have silently observed you. Although I dare not say that your kungfu is excellent, you have attained what ordinary people cannot attain. This is the result of your ‘subduing bitterness and sustaining endurance’. My heart is therefore peaceful. Today we have to separate.”
Luk Ah Choy immediately knelt before his sifu, and cried, “Student has received deep blessings and credit. I am willing to serve sifu for life.”
The monk replied, “The meeting and separating of people is determined beforehand. Close like father and son, husband and wife, it is inevitable to separate. I have entered the ‘empty gate’ (i.e. the Buddhist order), like lone clouds and solitary cranes, there is no need for any company. You can honor the master and respect the Way, we can still have the opportunity to meet one day.”
Sorrow arose in Luk Ah Choy, and his tears continuously flowed.
“Today we part. I have a few words to tell you. Please listen carefully. Although learning kungfu is only a small Way, but small it can strengthen our tendons and nourish our energy, build our spirit and harmonize ourselves, and have the benefits of longevity and mental clarity. Big, it can help the weak and support the strong, flourish the neighborhood, and stabilize the country. When you have descended the mountain (i.e. completed your kungfu training), you must uphold morality, and clear in your chest (i.e. be clear in your consciousness) and be pure and white in your coming and going (i.e. clean in your behavour).
“Remember the insult of the Shaolin Monastery being raised to the ground. One may move the eastern sea, but this hatred cannot be erased. Although you are in the noise and dust (i.e. in the everyday world), you must ‘build your essence and practice your bones’ (i.e. continue to practice your kungfu) so that you will not ‘forsake my heart and blood’ (i.e. neglect my intention and effort).”
Luk Ah Choy furthered prostrated and said, “Student will always remember.”
There were two Shaolin Monasteries under heaven. One was in the Central Range of Song Mountain in Henan Province. It had a long history, and at the end of the Sui Dynasty and the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, it was famous in the four four seas because of “thirteen monks with staffs saved the King of Qin” (who later became the first Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty). The Shaolin Monastery was conferred by imperial degree as the “First Monastery Under Heaven”.
Another Shaolin Monastery was built during the middle of the Ming Dynasty in Quanzhou of Fujian Province on Nine-Lotus Mountain. At that time, the areas around the south-eastern sea were frequently attacked by Japanese pirates who plundered ships, killed citizens and robbed wealth, causing great disasters to the people and instability to the country.
About the time of Emperor Jiajing (who ruled from 1521 to 1567), the Governor of Guangdong and Guangxi submitted a report to the Ming emperor, requesting monks from the Shaolin Monastery to subdue the pirates. The Venerable Yuekong led Shaolin monks, together with General Yu Da You and General Qi Ji Guang, defeated the pirates. To honour them, Emperor Jiajing built the southern Shaolin Monastery.
(There were actually three Shaolin Monasteries, a northern monastery at Henan, and a southern monastery at the City of Quanzhou in Fujian. These two monasteries were known to the public. The third monastery, which was secretive, was built by the Venerable Chee Seen on Nine-Lotus Mountain. Both Quanzhou and Nine-Lotus Mountain were in Fujian Province.)
The Venerable Chee Seen and Li Chooi Peng arrived at the southern Shaolin Monastery on the Nine-Lotus Mountain. At the main gate was a poetic couplet with a head line and a end line. The two lines of the poetic couplet were as follows:
Going out of the gate, at dawn see the face of the emperor
Entering the monastery understand the heart of ancient Buddha
Behind the main gate was the main hall, known as Great Majestic Precious Hall. There were two poetic couplets in the main fall. The two lines of the first poetic couplet were as follows:
Heroes are the first
Champions know no parallels
The two lines of the other poetic couplet were as follows:
There is no need for literature to meet the lord
All depend on martial art to repay the king
Li Chooi Peng was enchanted by the monastery. She could read what was written in the poetic couplets, but could not understand the meaning. So she asked, “Sifu, what do the lines of the poetic couplets mean?”
The Venerable Chee Seen was taken aback. The poetic couplets were written in earlier generations, and although there was no explanation for all the individual words, each person could interpret the poetic couplets differently.
The first line of the first couplet, “Going out of the gate, at dawn see the face of the emperor” did not refer to the face of the Qing emperors, but to those of the Ming. In the end line, “Entering the monastery understand the heart of ancient Buddha”, “the heart of ancient Buddha” did not refer to government aims and aspirations, but to the task of “overthrowing the Qing and restoring the Ming”.
The poetic couplets inside the main hall were strange. In a Buddhist monastery, they should be such phrases like “Clear Heart See Nature” or “Cultivate and Understand Zen Secrets”, but why were they singing praises of heroes and champions, and martial art? Actually there were secrets hidden in the open. The line “All depend on martial art to repay the king” did not mean to protect the the Qing empire, but to restore the Ming.
But how would Chee Seen explain the secrets to a small girl? After some thought, he gently stroke the two goat-like plaits of hair behind Li Chooi Peng’s head and kindly said, “After a few years, when you have grown up, sifu will then tell you.”
Li Chooi Peng nodded her head. Chee Seen was very please and led her forward.
After the main hall, there was another hall. On top was written “Red-Flower Pavilion”. There was much history behind the words.
When the Qing defeated the Ming, a Ming general Zheng Cheng Gong retreated to Taiwan and organized Heaven-Earth Society with the purpose of overthrowing the Qing and restoring the Ming. They met at Red-Flower Pavilion.
The first patriarch of Hoong Moon, which meant Dynamic Gate, and was a gigantic secret society dedicated to overthrowing the Qing, the Venerable Tat Chong who gathered a lot of heroes and kungfu experts, named one of the halls in his temple “Red-Flower Pavilion”.
Behind Red-Flower Pavilion was a back hall. On top was hung a plaque with four words, “Restore Right Remove Evil”. Ordinary people might think the plaque glorified the tremendous power of the Buddhist faith, but its hidden meaning was to restore the Ming Dynasty and remove the Qing Dynasty.
In the City of Wei Yang, there was a sundry shop. The shop wasn’t big, but on this street there was only one sundry shop, which sold oil, salt, sauce, vinegar, joss sticks, candles to the people. Hence the business was prosperous.
But the owner soon died, and his wife, Madame Lau, though young at 30, had to manage the shop besides looking after her 2-year old daughter. All the neighbours were sympathetic to the mother and daughter, especially when Madame Lau was honest.
Soon six years passed. Madame Lau was full and warmth (meaning she had no worries about her livelihood) and had a small saving. But “every family had a sutra that was difficult to recite” (which meant that there was difficulty for everybody). What made Madame Lau worried was her daughter, Li Chooi Peng.
Li Chooi Peng was a young girl of eight, clever and bright. Her two big eyes were like sparkling water. Neighbours used to tease her saying that she would one day become the owner of a shop. Of course Madame Lau treated her daughter as “on top of the head, afraid it would be broken, in the mouth, afraid it would melt” (i.e. treasured her dearly).
This little girl, who was lovable by anyone who saw her, was often sick. Every year she would be sick a few times. Once she was sick, her whole body would be burning, and she would be fainting and semi-unconscious. Madame Lau had her seen countless doctors, but whatever medicine she took like water flowing over pebbles, without any use.
A year ago, Madame Lau had taken vegetarian food for three days, and requested spiritual help from temples for help and protection, even shortening her own life span to overcome the disaster of her child.
In front of Guan Yin Bodh Satt (i.e. the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, the most popular deity of the Chinese), she knocked her head on the ground until her head bled. She sought the advice of Bodh Satt in the form of “chim” (which was holding a container of numerous sticks and shook until one stick fell off from which an explanation could be obtained).
The explanation contained the following words.
It’s not in ordinary world
The wrong lies in creation
Whoever aim for peace
Seek one dedicated to cultivation
Madame Lau did not understand the explanation. So she asked someone from the temple to explain the divination, who told her that if she wanted her daughter to be healthy and happy, she must get a Buddhist monk or a Taoist priest as a god-father.
Madame Lau remember the advice, but for a year she could not find someone whom she could trust her daughter with.
On Cheng Meng day (“Cheng meng” means clear and bright, but it is a certain day of the year when the Chinese go to their parents’ tomb to pray) Madame Lau went with her daughter to pray at the tomb of her husband. On their return, Li Chooi Peng fell down.
Madame Lau sought the help of doctors, but every doctor shook his head and said that Li Chooi Peng would be crippled. Madame Lau was very sad.
One day there was a monk at her door. He face was glowing with white beard under his chin. He radiated kindness that people found welcoming.
Madame Lau was a pious person, so she took some money for the monk. The monk declined her money and said.
“Generous donor (which was a Chinese term usually used by monks and priests for the public), I can see some problem written between your eye-brows. If you don’t mind, can you tell me your problem?”
Madame Lau was surprised, but she told the monk about the problem of her daughter.
“May I see your ‘thousand gold’ (meaning your daughter)?”
Madame Lau then led the monk to an inner room where her daughter was.
The monk asked Madame Lau to warm some rice wine. He then poured some medicated powder to the warm wine. He applied the medicated wine to Li Chooi Peng’s injured leg, and circulated the leg. Then, in an instant, he pushed the girl’s foot into the socket of her bones. The girl gave a cry.
Madame Lau was worried. She beg the monk not to continue with his treatment.
The monk said, “Your thousand-gold is cured. There is no need for further treatment.”
He then asked Li Chooi Peng to stand up and slowly walked about. At first she hesitated, but the monk encouraged her. After she could walk freely, both the mother and the daughter cried. Li Chooi Peng was supposed to be a cripple, yet the monk cured her in just a few minutes.
The mother knelt down to thank the monk. She asked him what his name was.
“I am Chee Seen, and I come from the Shaolin Monastery.”
(“Chee Seen” is in Cantonese pronunciation. In Mandarin, it is pronounced as “Zhi Shan”. The written Chinese words are the same, and they mean “Extreme Kindness”)
Madame Lau was shocked. Right in front of her was the great Venerable Chee Seen from the well known Shaolin Monastery. She remember the divination from Guan Yin Bodh Satt, and begged the Venerable Chee Seen to accept Li Chooi Peng as his god-daughter.
Chee Seen said, “I have long dedicated myself to the Buddhist order. How can I become a god-father of your ‘thousand gold’. But I can accept her as a disciple, and we return to the Shaolin Monastery. What is the opinion of generous donor?”
Madame Lau was keen to have the Venerable Chee Seen accept Li Chooi Peng, so she only answered, “Very good, very good indeed.”
Chee Seen was silent for a while, then said, “Before accepting your ‘thousand gold’ as a disciple, I must tell generous donor this. As my disciple, I shall transmit to her what I have learned, but she must be at the monastery for a few years. When she is successful, she can then return home.”
Madame Lau asked her daughter to kneel before Chee Seen and knock her head on the ground to perform the ceremony of being a student. Then Chee Seen and Li Chooi Peng returned to the Shaolin Monastery.