Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ode to Big Mike

I saw recently on facebook that Mike Lowney passed away. Here is a link to the Go Fund Me that his son's Kung Fu brother set up.  This will be a hard time for the family financially as well as emotionally. Please take some time to read and donate on the Go Fund me.

Big Mike was a major part of the Kung Fu world in  Chinatown. He told me that he actually was studying Karate together with Bob Rosen, and that it was Mike that got Bob Rosen (who would later become the head of the Boston Wah Lum School) into Kung Fu in the first place.

Mike had recently shared a story with me about the old days in Chinatown regarding the Firecrackers blowing out the windows of a supermarket.. and why they started holding the fircracker lines further out from the stores. (That story went up on the blog and I will add a link later.)

But to me, Big Mike was mostly a person who came by the school to visit my Sifu, a white guy who spoke Cantonese and Taishanese and had studied countless types of Kung Fu both in Chinatown, Hong Kong, and China. He was well known for his loyalty to his Sifu, which many Chinese saw as uncharacteristic for most American students. He had embraced the Chinese culture full on and even become somewhat of a legend to a generation between mine and his of young Chinese men who took it upon themselves to recount his great exploits to me.

Hong Mao, or Panda, once interrupted my Kung Fu practice to go through a whole litany of how bad ass Big Mike was.

"He would break those big rocks and bricks and walk around carrying a sword like one of those 'dai hup'" a Wuxia Hero. The closest thing to that image in American culture would be a cowboy... and more recently Kung Fu Panda (the first one) makes fun of this image with Po imagining himslef to be the wandering hero. But To many in Chinatown, including Chinese, Big Mike was the real deal.

Well Big Mike leaves behind a wife and son and I hope that Chinatown can be an extended family to them. The old generation and much of the new generation knew and will miss Big Mike. But part of the reason why I decided to write this entry is because I am aware that there is a whole new Chinatown that has arrived in Boston from all over and have good intentions and care about the community, but who may not even know who Big Mike was. I feel that a lot of this newer generation reads the blog and I just thought it would be good for them to hear the little that I knew about who he was.

Members of the community we have lost

It is natural that every year we lose members of our community to sickness age, and in more tragic circumstances, violence and accidents. 

However,  can't help but realize the fragility and I guess familial closeness of Chinatown when people pass away. In some ways Chinatown is really a small town or a village. Or a school. It is still quite tight knit. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Crew vs. Dragon Boat

Since the season I did crew in high school, I have always wanted to try Dragon Boat, and this year I have the opportunity to be on the AACA (Asian American Civic Association) 's team "Blazin Paddles."

Some people will think that if you do crew, you can do Dragon boat... but the muscle groups are different. and the paddles are different too. What is the same is the idea of team work. Also I feel like the Dragon Boats paddles and boat are so simple, that I almost feel like I could make a crude paddle and a crude boat even... where as the crew boats (which cost like $30,000) seem very complicated to make. I mean a Dragon Boat is basically a canoe.

I showed up to the first practice and saw that some people even brought their own paddles.

"How much are those?" I asked

"There like $100." I mean that's not cheap.. but they are lightweight... a far cry from the wooden paddles. But I found out later that we all got to use the fancy light weight paddles anyway.

I am not likely to buy one, but my Kung Fu side really like the idea of people carrying their paddle like a samurai sword around. And I immediately wanted to do Kung Fu moves for a short paddle.

My first day.. I think crew actually hindered me because I was trying to feather the oar and all that when I really should have been keeping the oar vertical the whole time. You also take the oar out at mid thigh. The second practice we began to move a little bit more as a team.

I guess I also can't help but compare progress to that high school team where even our slackiest members were still young and we all practiced everyday. Groton was actually competitive at crew so even though I was on the last boat... it was still kind of serious.

But I really enjoy this sport because unlike Kung Fu, or lion dance, where a lot of the technique is somewhat theory or ritual... if you don't paddle... the boat doesn't move. There is beauty in the simplicity of the practice.... to make the boat go. And the competition as well... it's a simple race.

We haven't been drumming and there is no flag catcher in the Boston Dragon Boat and you can see how the sport is changing with the times or trying to go back to the traditional way as well.

Most amazing though, is to see Coach Irene, an Asian female, coaching and calling out orders to a boat that has Asians and none Asians. Why is this significant to me? Well you see at Groton, although asians did crew... well it;s not the same as having strong Chinese Americans figures in charge of the whole sport and also being very AMERICAN in their lingo and cadence. If I had had those sorts of role models in my youth I might have a different outlook. Even now in my 30's it is somewhat eye opening... or broadening.

I'm looking forward to the future practices and hope to remain involved in Dragon boat after I move to New Jersey.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Jessica Tang and the "Greater Chinatown Community"

Everyone knows I've been kind of checked out since I will soon be moving to New Jersey. But I picked up a newspaper with the headline being something like, "Jessica Tang to be new leader of the BTU" and the Globe is saying not only is she the first Chinese American but the first person of color and the first woman in decades. She is also part of the LGBTQ community.

Boston is changing

And this post is not a call to action to throw your support behind her in an upcoming election so much as it is to let the community know about someone who can be a resource for us... because she is running unopposed. She's got it already.

Also, in terms of the Chinatown community, she has been involved since her college years at Harvard. Which taught me something. For cheap lion dance snubbing from Harvard, you can't forget about the Jessica Tang's who come into Boston and immediately get involved and stand up for the Community working with the CPA and people like Lydia Lowe, Karen Chen, and Giles Li.

"I've known Giles like forever," Jessica laughed, "Or at least we've worked together for the last 10 years."

Giles, who commented on one of my Facebook announcements that I would be moving to New Jersey with a "???????" made me realize that I have become somewhat important enough in Chinatown to be missed if I leave.

But Jessica validated the belief that  Chinatown is more of a base for a broader cultural community than just a brick and mortar neighborhood. When she came here for Harvard, it doesn't matter that she didn't grow up here, she saw it as her community too and started getting involved to protest gentrification right away.

Now this blog has many perspectives on that particular issue, but the point is, while talking to Lydia Lowe about tapping into that broader power base of people who grow up in Chinatown, become successful and then move out, people like Jessica show that they just need a space to get involved, and if you build it they will come.

"Chinatown is a place where we can celebrate and be with our community and support each other." 

Bostonians may move out to Colorado or California but they get involved in the broader Chinese and Asian communities there, whether it is in activism lion dance or dragon boat or whatever.

Because Chinatown is more than just a gate a restaurant and a community center. It is a way for immigrants and abc's to stay in touch with their community.

As Jessica said in our interview "Chinatown is a place where we can celebrate and be with our community and support each other."

In other words, working together as a community, Chinatown as an idea is a sleeping Dragon whose potential for political, social, and economic power has yet to be awakened.

I asked Jessica to explain what her role as president of the Boston Teacher's Union would be, or even what the role of the union was in the first place. I brazenly through my ignorance on the table because frankly, it's not even like I don't pay attention. My kids are in BPS (for the remainder of the year) and I went to BPS through the 4th grade. I knew that the BTU had a lot of strikes... I learned of all the obstacles I had in trying to make my school more culturally Chinese by trying to volunteer my Kung Fu and Lion Dance. I mean it's not like I wasn't allowed, but here I was offering something for free and trying to organize a way to make our local school something more than just a school and I have to jump through hoops. So I stopped.

Talking with other parents I didn't get the feeling like the BTU was this wonderful thing.

But Jessica said that is part of the reason why she was running. To change the image and to educate.

Chinatown as an idea is a sleeping Dragon whose potential for political, social, and economic power has yet to be awakened.  

"Unions are the reason why we have the weekends off, or why you can't get fired for having children." Jessica told me, "and you don't really learn about Unions in school necessarily. I mean I'm not from a union family..."

But this isn't that Asians aren't involved in unions, but rarely are they leaders on this coast. On the west coast there are more Asian Union leaders and honestly, many friends were surprised while traveling to the West Coast to see that many Asians had these union type jobs that on the East coast would be done by other ethnic groups or races. You can literally SEE a difference.

"I may be the only Asian American Union leader in the State" Jessica mentioned to me, speaking of Massachusetts. And she is the leader of a union that is in charge of all of our children's education, something which Chinese families in particular tend to value very highly.

Stereo typically, and this I guess is more true in the past, while Chinese value education highly, many immigrant families don't feel that they have a voice in the system, especially if they don't speak the language. They force their kids to do well. But they don't necessarily want t make waves.

Of course CPA is an exception to this, but for all the stories about success of Asians in the school system, let's not forget about what busing meant to new immigrants at Charlestown High, or some of the events in the 90's at Boston Latin or the older generations at Brighton High where large groups of Asians showed up in support or to watch a school fight. Remember that before the large influx of wealthy Chinese students almost every large gathering of Asians was reported as gang related in Boston's newspapers.

When really it was a result of how race and cultural issues were being handled by the school and the administrators. How they were being hired by the teachers.

If you had support from teachers, you wouldn't feel that you would have to go to a "gang" And I will not say "Join" a gang because often some of these support groups whose members were all Asian or AZN were created from scratch, again as a result of the school system lack of concern for their safety.

And these "Gangsters" if one would believe the Herald's or the Globe's reporting in the 90's are largely in the Finance and Tech industries, successful white collar Bostonians, whose kids may or may not be in BPS, whose buying power and intellect really help the city run.... but whose contributions and concerns are still largely glossed over. Whose families are also still at least a notch more conservative in terms of LGBTQ issues and whose children might need some support from outside of their family.

So is it significant that in 2017 the Boston Teacher's Union President is now going to be Jessica Tang, a Chinese American woman who is also part of the LGBTQ community?

Yeah actually it's a pretty big deal.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

An insiders view on the MMA vs. Tai Chi Fight

So I know that I already wrote about this, but while eating at Jumbo's in Boston's Chinatown witrh friends..... it turned out that I actually know someone who studied under Xu Xiaodong, the MMA/Sanda fighter in this 10 second duel that went viral.

We had Fu gwa and gai peen (the bitter melon and chicken slices) and also some sort of Chinese burrito type thing that was good but I had no idea how to order it. I kind of wanted to see what these guys would order because I notice that everyone has their own ordering habits. 

So we were talking about traditional vs. modern martial arts and as a traditional martial artists, (who frankly has done okay in fights and boxing etc. Not overwhelming amazing, but not embarrassingly horrible either) I have a lot to say about some of the notions that immediately will come up just from the idea of what this fight is about. In fact a lot of my friends who don't even practice Martial Arts and aren't even Chinese will immediately be saddened by what just happened. 

Xu Xiadong's student gave some clearer insight though. First off, let's talk about training.

"One of the first things we did as beginners was all the beginner students would line up on one side and the experienced students line up on the other. The experienced students will then punch the beginners and the beginners don't even punch, they just have to focus on blocking" He demonstrated the boxer's guard and also explained when studying MMA with Xu that they all learned boxing frist, as a sort of base, "To be honest in the beginning I could not even keep my eyes open and they had to tell me on focusing to keep my eyes open to watch what your opponent is throwing at you."

The first thought was, "wow that's actually a good method. Though I can't exactly imagine employing that with students (children) here in the US. But with my own kids... I have actually done similar training. Obviously I wasn't trying to hit my own kid full force... but I bet the same is true of the experienced students. They have control. 

Interestingly at the school where I learned Kung Fu we would usually do the opposite. Beginners would throw all the punches at experienced students and the experienced students would just indicate openings with slaps etc. I like the idea behind Xu's training... but I never saw anything like that in an American Boxing gym. And I think when teaching kids I might opt for some sort of slap boxing instead. But there is something very powerful about having to first learn how to defendand I beleiec this training method will get enable you to learn the martial art very quickly. It is safer if you are just doing it in a boxing way and not say, using the same sort of philosophy with Bak Mei type strikes you know? With White Crane strikes... actually like a said we did do something similar. But your guard would have to move to counter the pows and cups and honestly if that was the first thing you did.... it might be discouraging but it's worth researching.

"I think we were the first group in China to do MMA and we had an interesting experiment. We tried to have all sorts of martial artists" Combat sports, "studying for the same amount of time to fight with MMA rules. The worst one, surprisingly was Tae Kwan Do. Because when they clenched it was over. Boxing Wrestling Judo and Sand Da people all did about the same."

I asked him about the whole "All Tai Chi sucks" type statements.

"Those were angry words... but what actually happened was Xu was supposed to meet with a Tai Chi Master to talk about (debate) how Tai Chi didn't work on the street. But then they did not agree and they were supposed to meet again and fight. But the Tai Chi Master didn't show up. Instead, he posted Xu's personal information online. His phone number and his address. Then after receiving many threatening letters and calls and e-mails telling him he sucks as a person he went off and starting saying Tai Chi and even all of Kung Fu is no good. At that point many people did not support him because it was like he was  insulting Chinese Culture."

The point here is that the video makes it look like Xu is picking on Traditional martial arts. I think it is important to note that he was cyber bullied first. 

As a traditional practitioner (that is always changing things not so much to adapt to the "street" but to the situation.) I actually see MMA and simply a continuation of a tradition. These type of exchanges may actually improve traditional modern Tai Chi honestly. That is to say... Tai Chi Practitioners (and Kung Fu practitioners in general) in the past had to fight more. When you are fighting all the time... you don't necessarily have to do fighting drills. My mother grew up in the 50's in the states and she fought people all the time in her Catholic girls school. Now.. it is true maybe she did not have a good boxing guard either, but she was in bloody head banging against concrete type of fights. She went on to do Kendo in Japan, which she loved, because you could "beat the shit out of each other and nobody got hurt" she never got that great at it. But I just want to show that her Martial Arts, never actually helped her on the street either. In fact as she traveled around the world and got into many dangerous situations she never fought her way out as an adult according to her stories. 

Two instances she recounted were diving off a cliff in Iraq because they were shooting. The moral of that story was not to dive because she later heard of others diving there and hitting their heads on rocks. And bribing child soldiers holding machine guns in Laos with cigarettes. The gift meant that they didn't shoot her right there. (she's white btw, and in those countries.. she always said she was Canadian.)

One final thing she said to me in regards to fighting was this quote from my grandfather, "Don't be a fighter. Once people know that you are a fighter... then everyone will want to fight you."

Some would say Xu is in this predicament now. However, maybe that is a good thing in his case. More fights that are going viral might be good for business. I didn't know who he was before this 10 second duel. Now he might as well be up there with Bruce Lee for his 15 minutes of fame. Can he get a show or perhaps a match in the UFC out of it? Anyway who knows. 

I am not as saddened by the fact that the Tai Chi guy lost and I also do Tai Chi like practices. I will probably continue to teach my Tai Chi like stuff even more than my other forms (up there with this Stick form/game that my Sifu actually hated but is quick for kids to pick up) because its what people want. Ex- Soldiers, gangsters, people with violent pasts... they love the idea of sparringt and fighting, yes... but honestly, they always also ask me about Tai Chi. Tai Chi isn't going anywhere. 

As far as MMA is concerned, catch wrestling, boxing and wrestling, just plain fighting... has been around and it isn't going anywhere either. The names seem to change though. What is now called MMA would have been called ALL of the different names for other martial arts in the past from Kung Fu, Wushu, Boxing, and wrestling to you name it. There are no sticks or sword yet in MMA though, nor are there teams of fighters going at the same time... more like football, whcih if you think about it, might be pretty interesting to watch. 

Let's not worry so much about feeling bad and focus more on constantly learning and changing as teachers and students of the martial arts shall we?

Friday, May 5, 2017

On Current Healthcare Legislation

While Facebook shows many posts with approval or outrage regarding the current healthcare legislative battle, these are often one-off responses and partial opinions. It’s hard to make out what the actual rule changes are, behind the loud bickering and resentments between Republicans and Democrats. I want to talk about what’s being changed, and how it may affect citizens.

The Affordable Care Act mandated that everyone must have healthcare, and those who don’t needed to pay a tax penalty. To avoid the tax penalty, over 20 million Americans got health insurance.

The new American Health Care Act would do away with Medicaid. Google defines Medicaid as “Medicaid is a health care program that assists low-income families or individuals in paying for long-term medical and custodial care costs. Medicaid is a joint program, funded primarily by the federal government and run at the state level, where coverage may vary.” Long-term care include pre-existing conditions - illnesses people are born with, like my genetically activated polycystic kidney disease, for example. Custodial care involves patients who need a caretaker, like senior homes and similar programs.

The Affordable Care Act offered subsidized insurance policies, which means that government will help pay for health insurance for those who can’t pay themselves. The new laws offer tax credits of $2000 to $4000 a year - depending on age, which means that the government gives people this amount of tax dollars to pay for health insurance. This amount is actually tiny compared to the amount of money necessary to maintain care for people with pre-existing conditions or who need to stay somewhere other than home for their care.

New York Times writes, “A family could receive up to $14,000 a year in credits. The credits would be reduced for individuals making over $75,000 a year and families making over $150,000,” but this doesn’t define how large the family is, or how many of those people have pre-existing conditions, or need other long term care. American Cancer Society and AARP in oppose the repeal bill.

“States would receive an allotment of federal money for each beneficiary, or, as an alternative, they could take the money in a lump sum as a block grant, with fewer federal requirements. The bill would also repeal taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act on high-income people, insurers and drug companies, among others. And it would cut off federal funds from Planned Parenthood for one year.”

This means, the federal government would give each state an amount of money depending on how many sick people it has, but since there are fewer rules to go with that money, the money may never get to the sick people. Rich people, insurance and drug companies all get tax cuts. Planned Parenthood gets no money for a year.

Readers can and should call their local representatives to pressure them to vote in the best interests of the readers. Readers in Boston specifically - Michelle Wu is up for re-election as President of the City Council. She is for paid parental leave and healthcare equity: Please read up on the rest of her platform: . If her platform is to your liking, please also help her gather votes to keep her current position; she needs 1,500 local votes to be put on the ballot again.