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Thread: Chan Tai San stories

  1. #1

    Chan Tai San stories

    Might as well share a few....

    The first time I saw Chan Tai San, I didn't even know who he was, much less that I'd spend a good part of my life with him. I had heard some rumblings about him around Chinatown, particularly during the brief period I was lion dancing with the Dragon style people since Chan tai San was teaching some Bak Mei and some of the Lung Ying people had sought him out to learn it. The rumblings were mixed, and at the time I wasn't really that interested in finding a teacher. I was pretty much teaching my mixture of Hung Ga and Shuai Jiao, with some boxing and assorted other stuff I had picked up. I never really imagined how meeting him would shape my life so much.

    I was sitting in Din Yik, a restaraunt that no longer exists (and sadly so, it was a real landmark, at the turn of the century Sun Yat Sen had tea there while collecting money for his cause in NY). It was a little place, and mostly Chinese. But I managed to order my ha jeung (shrimp in rice noodle tube) and my coffee and it was the sort of place that if you sat and BS'ed they didn't care.

    Old Chinese men arguing was nothing strange here, but one old guy was louder than the rest. He then suddenly stood up and proceeded to run through a line of movement. Now, I know it was bak Mei, at the time I just knew it was some sort of Kung Fu. Sifu Chan was already in his 60's by the time this happened, yet he moved as if he was an active student in his 20's!

    After demonstrating the movement, he apparently must have felt he proved his point. The guy he was arguing with sort of put his head down, and Sifu Chan actually slapped his forehead. As I would later learn, Sifu Chan when it came to martial arts was ALWAYS right, and he wasn't shy about telling you, showing you and pointing it out afterwards.

    At this point, Steve ventura, who was eating with me, had pulled our friend the waiter over. He was a man I'd get to know over the years and call "uncle". I didn't know either at the time, but he was a relative of Sifu Chan's. He did Taiji and Tan Teui (spring legs) in the part every morning. His Taiji was his own synthetic form, he'd studied with like 20 different guys including version of yang, chen, wu, hao and li...

    Anyway, my "uncle" as I would learn to call him, told us he was a famous teacher who had just arrived from China recently. He told us the name, which only sort of stuck, we were dumb lo faan who didn't speak Chinese at the time. But he also told us he spoke no English and wasn't exactly interviewing for students. A little crest fallen, I figured it wasn't mean to be.... of coure, I was wrong
    Chan Tai San Book at https://www.createspace.com/4891253

    Quote Originally Posted by taai gihk yahn View Post
    well, like LKFMDC - he's a genuine Kung Fu Hero™
    Quote Originally Posted by Taixuquan99 View Post
    As much as I get annoyed when it gets derailed by the array of strange angry people that hover around him like moths, his good posts are some of my favorites.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kellen Bassette View Post
    I think he goes into a cave to meditate and recharge his chi...and bite the heads off of bats, of course....

  2. #2
    The same month I saw Chan Tai San in Tin Yik, Stephen Laurette came to me and Steve Ventura and asked us if we wanted to meet this old teacher he had studied with the year before. Laurette said that he'd lost track of the guy, but he had bumped into him the other day on the street and gotten his new address.

    I met Stephen Laurette when I was doing Shuai Jiao with Jeng Hsin Ping. Laurette was an extremely skilled 7 Star Praying Mantis person, and also quite a scholar. He had studied with Sifu Chiu Leun in Chinatown for many years. Laurette had picked up quite a lot of Cantonese, and also could read and write pretty well. Like a lot of guys in TCMA, he wanted to learn more of the applications. For that reason, he decided to study Shuai Jiao to compliment his Mantis.

    I had read the Shuai Jiao articles over the years and liked the idea of wrestling the "kung fu way". I had done western wrestling and Hapkido, in addition to the Hung ga Kahm Na (Qin Na or Chin-Na). When I saw a flyer for Shuai Jiao lessons in NYC, I jumped at the opportunity and also found my way to the lower eastside, where I met Laurette.

    Honestly, I grabbed Laurette the first day because he was the biggest guy there. I figured if I could learn to throw him, I could learn to throw anyone! But we ended up getting along for more than that. Laurette was always up to learn something new, and we ended up exchainging Mantis and Hung Ga over the years as well as doing Shuai Jiao together...

    Laurette had met Chan tai San because Sifu Chan's wife was Chiu Leun's cousin. That's just the way stuff worked in Chinatown those days. Laurette found Sifu Chan strange, to say the least, but could appreciate that he had stuff that apparently NO ONE else had... Sifu Chiu had told Laurette that Sifu Chan was a unique guy... that was true on many levels.
    Chan Tai San Book at https://www.createspace.com/4891253

    Quote Originally Posted by taai gihk yahn View Post
    well, like LKFMDC - he's a genuine Kung Fu Hero™
    Quote Originally Posted by Taixuquan99 View Post
    As much as I get annoyed when it gets derailed by the array of strange angry people that hover around him like moths, his good posts are some of my favorites.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kellen Bassette View Post
    I think he goes into a cave to meditate and recharge his chi...and bite the heads off of bats, of course....

  3. #3
    Laurette had studied Lama with Sifu Chan for about 8 months and then Sifu Chan left NY. He had gone back to Toronto, Canada for a while. I won't tell you why now, some other time maybe...

    When I met Laurette, he'd mentioned Sifu Chan to me, but since he wasn't in NYC, it never was much of an issue. Then he came up to Steve Ventura and I and said that he'd just bumbed into Sifu Chan on the street and that if we wanted to meet him, he'd set up a meeting...

    Here is the real kicker to this. At the time, I was teaching Hung Ga and Shuai Jiao. I'd done some Mantis, some dragon, a bunch of stuff, but I was pretty happy with what I was doing. I had no real desire to learn a new method. But I had one problem, the version of Hung Ga we did only had the 4 core forms. There were all long, and none were really fancy or pretty....

    When I first asked to meet Sifu Chan, my initial desire was just to learn some pretty forms! That's pretty f-in ironic in the long term...

    We arranged to bring Sifu Chan to the space I was using for my own classes. Laurette translated. Sfu Chan asked if we would pay him $80 per month for lessons. He'd come a few times a week and teach us what we wanted. I forget the hows and whys, but Steve Ventura originally asked to learn Choy Lay Fut. Laurette and I decided to do Lama. Actually, I think Laurette had asked for a particular set already, Siu Lo Han.
    Chan Tai San Book at https://www.createspace.com/4891253

    Quote Originally Posted by taai gihk yahn View Post
    well, like LKFMDC - he's a genuine Kung Fu Hero™
    Quote Originally Posted by Taixuquan99 View Post
    As much as I get annoyed when it gets derailed by the array of strange angry people that hover around him like moths, his good posts are some of my favorites.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kellen Bassette View Post
    I think he goes into a cave to meditate and recharge his chi...and bite the heads off of bats, of course....

  4. #4
    Sifu Chan liked Laurette because he had studied a very real kung fu system (7 star) for a very long time. He didn't have to explain a horse stance, he didn't have to teach him how to throw a punch. Sifu Chan was like that, he liked to work with guys who already had skills. He would of course take money from any one who had it, he made his living from teaching. But the reality was also that if you studied with him and were clueless, you often got quite jerked around. And Chan Tai San knew your story in 5 minutes or less, the first few movements and he pegged you, worthy student or just rice bag...

    Steve Ventura and I were also not exactly clueless beginners. We were both already intructor level in Hung ga (I had 6 years of training I think at the time, Ventura close to 10). Ventura had trained with teh Beijing Wushu Team in Beijing already, and was a champion forms player. We were also black belts in TKD and Hapkido. I'd done mantis, dragon, some white crane, shuai jiao, etc...

    I think in 5 minutes everyone knew what the deal was. Ventura and I realized we had just stumbled upon something unique. Sifu Chan started showing us moves just to see if we could do them. Then we started talking applications.... the rest was really just history....
    Chan Tai San Book at https://www.createspace.com/4891253

    Quote Originally Posted by taai gihk yahn View Post
    well, like LKFMDC - he's a genuine Kung Fu Hero™
    Quote Originally Posted by Taixuquan99 View Post
    As much as I get annoyed when it gets derailed by the array of strange angry people that hover around him like moths, his good posts are some of my favorites.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kellen Bassette View Post
    I think he goes into a cave to meditate and recharge his chi...and bite the heads off of bats, of course....

  5. #5
    It is getting sort of late, but let me say this in closing, 6 months from the date this started, I closed my Hung Ga classes and dedicated myself exclusively to Sifu Chan. The upswing for Sifu Chan was that everyoen I was training (about 15 at the time) became HIS students... We also began to advertise sifu Chan publicly, the first time anyone had done that for him. I'll get into more details later....
    Chan Tai San Book at https://www.createspace.com/4891253

    Quote Originally Posted by taai gihk yahn View Post
    well, like LKFMDC - he's a genuine Kung Fu Hero™
    Quote Originally Posted by Taixuquan99 View Post
    As much as I get annoyed when it gets derailed by the array of strange angry people that hover around him like moths, his good posts are some of my favorites.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kellen Bassette View Post
    I think he goes into a cave to meditate and recharge his chi...and bite the heads off of bats, of course....

  6. #6
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    I can't wait for the next episode.

    Quite an interesting read. You really should concider making us pay for this in book form. Quite a splash of romance in the telling.
    Last edited by SifuAbel; 12-12-2004 at 11:26 AM.

  7. #7
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    Do you know where Chan Tai San learned his Bak Mei?
    My intent is to kill you, my heart wants you dead, my mind thinks of you dead, when I strike its to kill you - Sifu.

    You are only as strong as your horse - Sigung Leung Cheung.

  8. #8

    Thumbs up

    Excellent posts.

    Cool stories.

    Shuai Jiao is so popular that it is incorporated into almost all the northern schools.

    Mongolian and Muslim Shuai Jiao were like traditional events since the time thousand years ago.

    Shuai Jiao started to become sports events some 2200 years ago in China.

    Shuai Jiao + Tong Bei.

    Shuai Jiao + Ba Gua.

    Shuai Jiao + Mantis.

    Shuai Jiao + Ba Ji.

    Shuai Jiao + Tang Tui.

    ---

    I would buy the book or watch the movie. If you ever decided to do so.


  9. #9
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    Dec 1969
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    1,406
    I saw a thing on "chinese wrstling" on CNN World a few weeks ago. They had red, white and blue vests and were throwing tourists around. The most striking thing about it was how old the practicioners were, like 60's+
    I do not ever see Sifu do anything that could be construed as a hula dancer- hasayfu

  10. #10

    One more....

    It was , i beleive , a Christmas party at the school and Chan Tai San wanted to say a few words to the students (through a translater, of course). It was a real warm hearted speech but what I still remember today was how he went on about how much he appreciated being here in this country. I came away feeling that his sharing of his knowledge with us was his way of saying," thank you, America."

    Any former students of the Mineola school here?

  11. #11
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    Cool Cool story.

    I liked your stories Ross, good color. I get a bit of the flavor of the scene in New York, which is clearly in the top 3 cities in this country for martial arts communities. For Chinese food restaurants too. I get a real sense of the history of the period. I was curious, what years more specifically was this and about how old were you at the time? What kind of a man was Chan besides skilled at kung fu? Did he ever learn to speak English and teach in English? Any other profession? Was New York's Chinatown predominantly Cantonese at the time, and how much has it changed over the years? Did Chan's classes have more American gringo's who wanted to kick some ass or more immigrant Chinese students keeping their roots? (or immigrant Chinese who wanted to kick some ass for that matter.) How long did you spend with him? Seems like $80 a month would have been a little steep for the time?

    I'm sure, I have read you making these points before, and I could probably figure out the rest from this thread. But fill us in a bit more. I'm curious.
    Count

    Live it or live with it.

    KABOOOM

  12. #12
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    coach ross,

    thanks for sharing the story.

    wm

  13. #13
    I met Chan Tai San the first semester I was in college, it was the mid 80's, Chinatown was mostly Cantonese, with the Vietnamese thing happening. We later in time had some trouble with the Vietnamese gangs and that's one reason we left Chinatown, to be done with the BS....

    I spent 16 years actually training with him, then the last few years he was semi-retired and I was running my own school.

    Sifu Chan never learned to speak English. I guess in retrospect he never needed to, his students all started learning Cantonese to study with him! More than a few teachers over they years asked him (and us) how the heck that happened as they often couldn't even get their students to learn the technique names even.... The reason was sifu Chan, what he offered.

    Sifu Chan was a complicated person, in some respects the power of his kung fu knowledge was the counterweight to his difficult personality.

    A few months into my learning with Sifu Chan, I closed my school and said I wanted to follow Sifu Chan and become part of his lineage. Since my Chinese was still basicly non-existant at the time, Sifu Chan asked a friend of his, a student of Hung ga teacher Wan Chi Min, to translate. We met at Mandarin Court on Mott Street for tea and the student of Wan Chi Min's translated, as well as warned us...

    He asked us (me, Steve ventura, Laurett) if we were really ready for what this was going to take. At the time, it seemed a stupid question, in retrospect, I now know what he meant. He said many people had wanted to learn from Sifu Chan, but following him was not an easy path. I had my share of horror stories training with sifu over the years, and they PALED compared to what he did with other students. He beat a few students in Canada with a stick once. He casually mentioned that he'd KILLED a few of his students in China. The one time he slammed me against the wall and choked me seemed mild in comparison.

    When sifu passed this year, we sat with his family. Even they had very little to do with him in his life. For the most part, they found him a bad tempered man who only knew his way, who had not been much of a husband, much of a father, much of a grandfather. His students spent more time with him than his own family. In some respects, we put on blinders, because what we wanted was his kung fu, and his kung fu was ultimately worth whatever it took, really, it was like the X Files. Every year I got that sense more and more...
    Chan Tai San Book at https://www.createspace.com/4891253

    Quote Originally Posted by taai gihk yahn View Post
    well, like LKFMDC - he's a genuine Kung Fu Hero™
    Quote Originally Posted by Taixuquan99 View Post
    As much as I get annoyed when it gets derailed by the array of strange angry people that hover around him like moths, his good posts are some of my favorites.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kellen Bassette View Post
    I think he goes into a cave to meditate and recharge his chi...and bite the heads off of bats, of course....

  14. #14
    Join Date
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    sifu ross, i like your stories man
    they are pretty cool/ please continue.
    Quote Originally Posted by Psycho Mantis View Post
    Genes too busy rocking the gang and scarfing down bags of cheetos while beating it to nacho ninjettes and laughing at the ridiculous posts on the kfforum. In a horse stance of course.

  15. #15
    Sifu chan had both Chinese and American students. The Americans were the majority in the regular school, which originally was just the group class that Sifu ran out of the Gee How Oak Tin Association on Bayard. that was really because Chinese students would often come, were confronted with Sifu's personality head on, and would opt for another arrangement.

    I think sifu was even harder on his Chinese students, he expected they know every aspect of the "proper" things to do in the kung fu world, even if they were "juk sing" (ABC)... Considering the grief he gave me, an American with no previous Chinese cultural training, over stuff like the right place to put a tea cup or the correct time to pour tea, I can only imagine the sort of stuff he expected of Chinese students...

    Other times, Sifu Chan would be contacted by all Chinese groups to teach on a contract basis. Sifu Chan, as was his nature, would of course take the money, then often mess with the heads of those groups. It was like "I am Chan Tai San, and I thumb my nose at you and your thinking you are anyone"

    Sifu Chan's favorite "trick" was to take the money and then have a monkey, usually me, a lowly gwai loh, do the actual teaching. I got used to the drill. He'd tell me to show up some place at a certain time. By the time I'd shown up, Sifu had taken the money and closed the deal, he'd usually start something with the group. Then, as soon as I arrived, he'd hand them all over to me and LEAVE.... I taught in the White Crane school, and in 4 or 5 different "associaitons" over the years because of this "trick"...

    I remember two times when this created an actual argument. The head of one of the associations was absolutely not going to accept a dumb monkey teaching his members, especially when he thought he had paid for famous Chan Tai san. Sifu Chan simply told the guy, "anyone here that can beat him?" The answer was no. So Chan told him basicly "stuff it" (actually, he said something about crabs that don't smell too good and something about seeds withering for those of you who speak Cantonese)
    Chan Tai San Book at https://www.createspace.com/4891253

    Quote Originally Posted by taai gihk yahn View Post
    well, like LKFMDC - he's a genuine Kung Fu Hero™
    Quote Originally Posted by Taixuquan99 View Post
    As much as I get annoyed when it gets derailed by the array of strange angry people that hover around him like moths, his good posts are some of my favorites.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kellen Bassette View Post
    I think he goes into a cave to meditate and recharge his chi...and bite the heads off of bats, of course....

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