Sifu Wing Lam

I will never forget the first time I learned that Sifu knew my name.

I had only been at the school for several months.  I hadn’t really interacted with Sifu at all – I knew who he was to be sure, and I saluted him as he passed, but to that point all my class time was with his bevy of instructors.  As it was, several instructors could not make it that evening, so Sifu was gathered with those that were there, working to ensure everyone was taken care of.  “Well, Oliver is learning Tan Tuy right now…”  Inwardly, my head whipped around.  I was, shall we say, rather high strung back then…  “He knows my name… how could he know my name?  Is that a good thing?  What’s going on? Is this bad???“

It wasn’t.  Not in the slightest.

In the years since that night, I came to know Sifu as a teacher, as a guide, and as a friend.  If I were to use one word to describe Sifu, it would be generous.  One of the most generous human beings I have ever met, in all senses of the word.  Generous with his time.  Generous with his knowledge.  Generous with his assistance.  Generous with his patience.  And generous with his understanding.  He put up with me when I was not at my best, helped me out in numerous ways over the years, explained things over and over, and led trips for us to China.

But above all, he loved to teach and was always ready to give willing of his time to share what he knew.  Once, on one of those trips to China, while we the tour participants were practicing with the local master I looked over to see Sifu chatting with a stranger.  Not five minutes later, the stranger was in a stance and Sifu was proffering explanations and suggestions.  He was that eager.  Kung fu was his passion in life, and he expressed it fully.

Of course, there are many words that can be used to describe Sifu.  Rigorous:  Sifu never rested on his laurels with “this is how things are, this is what I remember, this is how this art is done,” he was always testing, exploring, relearning, and deepening his understanding of every art he learned.  Resourceful:  Sifu managed to make a living in the Bay Area through his love of the martial arts, without having to compromise the principles of the art.  Renaissance Man:  Sifu was skilled way beyond just the martial arts, teaching himself to be a weaponsmith, a tui na and herbalist healer, author, video producer, carpenter, businessman, real estate agent, and father.  Peaceful:  Sifu lived his life with equanimity and faced things as they were.  Devilishly witty:  Sifu could break out an astute little twist or cutting yet loving phrase or instruction at unexpected moments.  Humble:  Sifu didn’t like attention or speeches, he just wanted to practice and grow.  Industrious, fastidious, inventive, curious… I could go on.

Sifu was a genuine martial artist, interested in the art side of things as much as the martial.  He studied diligently and delved deep into the heart of several styles to discover their deepest roots and concepts.  He wouldn’t recite answers from memory:  ask him a question, and it he would generate it from first principles.  Ask him in a year, and his answer may shift as he grew his understanding.  He always knew exactly what to give you that would improve your form; never more, never less.  And it was all delivered without attitude.  He never sought the limelight, he never gated his teachings, he never compared himself to others.  He was at where he was at, always walking the path.

Through his school, through his store, through his videos, through his books, and through his disciples and instructors and through their students in turn, Sifu touched the lives of thousands.  I count myself extremely lucky to have – pretty much by accident – found my way to his school eighteen years ago and gotten the chance to know him.   He has been a major part of my entire adult life.   I will cherish all the lessons he taught me, both in the martial arts and in how to be a great human being.  I will strive to honour those lessons and his memory, practicing with equal passion and sharing that passion with equal generosity.  I will carry on his legacy, in whatever ways I can.

Grandmaster Wing Lam passed away this morning.  The world has lost a treasure.  I will miss him dearly, as will we all.

Thank you Sifu, for everything.


For Sam

sam bridge2

sam bridge1

Dedicated this week, in remembrance of Sam.  The formal naming of the bridge she used to cross over from her cat tree to her food, and to her personal perches upon high for sleeping, watching, and rapt contemplation.

Forever it will be, as she is in spirit, a part of my home.




Sam entered my life about five years ago, through Fiona, who was a housemate at the time.  I didn’t see Sam for much of the first month or two, for she hid under the couch nearly nonstop, and would certainly hide if I came into the room.  Sam had not had an easy time at her former place of residence and she would only come out, tentatively, when the familiar face of Fiona was the only one in the room.

Over time, that changed.  The short way of saying it is I won her over.  With patience, openness, and love, along with some nice words in the secret cat language (which is French), she warmed up to me and to the world at large.  When Fiona moved out, she asked if I would like to keep Sam, and I wholeheartedly said yes.

Sam would run to greet me at the door when I came home.  She was a total winter lap and cuddle with you while you sleep cat (in the summer, too hot!).  She would hunt her toys at night, and bring them to me with a meow at 2am.  She enjoyed rolling around on the front stoop, and she loved romping around the backyard.  She stared through the window at the possum sitting rock still on the nearby fence.  She would hop upon my lap as I worked, and then would lie on the desk near me.  She loved rubbing her head all over shoes, and when I would get home from kung fu practice, I’d lay on the floor and she would come and nestle in the crook of my arm, head happily buried into my armpit.

Whenever I would pet her, she would meow, quite a bit.  At first, her meows sounded plaintiff.  I surmised it was a strategy from her previous household, where another cat would terrorize her.  With a plaintiff meow, the other cat wouldn’t come to investigate.  That too transformed.  She would meow much more playfully, joyously, as I pet her, motor running with intensity.

She was a wonderful cat.  She filled my life with feline grace and affection and delight and love.

Today, August the 10th, 2016, Sam crossed over the rainbow bridge.  I held her as she passed.  We had shared a glorious set of years together.

Goodbye my dear Sam.  You will be missed.

I can complete the poem I began yesterday:


and maybe,

just maybe

I can smile

as I imagine my cat

chasing that die

as it rolls across the sky




Philosophy Tuesday

Sometimes there just is no answer

for all our want to influence or control

all we know or think we know

they don’t make a lick of difference

all we do or try to do

they don’t make the rules

things are not in our paws

there’s only the big die roll in the sky

and so we grieve

or at least pre-grieve

waiting and wondering

keeping vigil

from near or afar


self-recriminations at the ready

thousands of what ifs and if onlys

laid out in front of us for analysis

not helping, but not avoidable

distracting us from the outcome

distracting us from the game

of being with

the sadness

the memories

the unknown

letting it flow through us

letting it honour the one

the departed

or the not yet departed

the space of limbo

the uncomfortable space of limbo

the hellish space of limbo

getting ready

as if we could ever be truly ready

for that which comes

reprieve (for now) or finality

we don’t know when the die will be rolled

so we breathe

and wait