Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hanging out with Sifu Edward Woodruff

Today I got the chance to hang out with Sifu Edward Woodruff. This is more of an intro because we will have to work out together which of the stories we shared with each other will go into the blog and which ones will not. However, just vaguely I will say that it was amazing to hear about the Kung Fu world in Boston's Chinatown, around the time that I was not even born yet. Sifu Woodruff, often called Mok Suk or Uncle Wood, in Chinatown back in the day, showed me a picture in black and white of him performing at Tai Tung Village. The reason why I want to talk about this picture instead of the many that he showed me, is that I have seen several pictures of Kung Fu people performing on those same steps at Tai Tung and I also performed there. But when I performed there, I only saw myself. I didn't see what came before. I had no idea about what came before and that there was a whole culture of Kung Fu here in Boston.

And even though I do know that now, or even had an inkling as a child, it is different to really peer into the details. In fact there are many things that people who do know.. assume I would know... after all doing Kung Fu in Chinatown and having these community ties and a blog... how can I NOT know. Well I can tell you that I am learning new things every day about the past.

Look into the past makes me think about the future too.

I mean Sifu Woodruff talked about reading my blog and seeing some similarities, of being a white guy who was sort of part of the Chinese culture while at the same time being an outsider in other ways. Although he is not mixed race, he is in many ways, MORE of an insider in Chinatown than I am.

When we ordered in Chinese both of us got those laughs and looks of "Wow your Chinese is very good." etc.

But what interested me most about his stories is that although his Sifu did not speak English, his contemporaries who were more American and did speak English were the well established and famous Sifus when I was a child.

Now people call me Sifu because I teach at this class or that class. But I have already seen this phenomenon. There are new Sifus coming over from China, from Shaolin Temple or Wu Dang, and they are surprised to see a strong culture of Kung Fu already here and more Americanized as well. What about ten years later or 20 years later?

Let's just say that I am glad that I am writing some of this stuff down.

My Uncle had said something about newer immigrants.. that for some reason, every group, especially a new group, always seems to think that it's just them. It's only they that go through these strange feelings and that well, other people just wouldn't understand who are outside that group. Now every individual is unique, let alone each culture and group. But there is often a lot of commonality.

I learned today that Sifu Woodruff and I have a lot in common even though we are from different backgrounds and generations. The funniest thing was that as we moved on from lunch at Hong Kong Eatery to Hong Kong Milk Teas at Eldo's when we both ordered in Chinese there... in addition to the first look of surprise at seeing frist one white face and then another order in Cantonese... there was the second look at both of our faces....

"You know you could be my son.." Sifu Woodruff laughed while recalling that exchange. I also think that perhaps that was what the woman at the register may have decided was the case. For certain... there must be some story behind two white guys speaking Chinese.

But the truth is, as I have been learning, even though people are surprised when I speak Chinese.. it is actually old news! There have been white people speaking Chinese in Chinatown since at least the 70's. It makes me wonder about even further back. I mean I saw some old footage of workers from the Qing Dynasty doing lion dance in Boston. The head was very strange looking. Not a Faht San head at all. Now... if they knew lion dance.. chances are there was Kung Fu too. Just because I have never heard anything about it doesn't mean there isn't a plethora of interesting stories of those old days that maybe we can also all relate too.

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