Lam Sifu's Abridged History
As fourth generation master of Kwongsai Bamboo Forest Temple Hakka Praying Mantis, Lam Sifu's life reads like a Chinese kungfu novel. Verified facts sounding like fiction to the western mind filled his pages.
Still in his mid-thirties, it was during the last years of WW2, that the late Lam Sang Sifu left his teacher and found his way to NYC Chinatown. There he began quielty teaching the Bamboo Temple Kungfu at the Hakka Chinese Assocation. Later, at the request of an interpreter from another Chinese American Association, Lam Sang Sifu began teaching the youth at the Hip Sing Association (home page image). Lion Dance and kungfu instruction were the methods used to recruit new members and hundreds of Chinatown's populace became students of Lam Sang Sifu during the 1950's and 60's.
It was during this time the Late Lam Sang Sifu chose from among the hundreds of Chinese students, his first disciple, Wong Bak Lim. Seven others were then chosen and accepted as disciples (Ah Leung, Hing, Eng, Wong, Lee, Kai and Sun). These first eight disciples became the family of Lam Sang Sifu and the whole group would stand before the "sun toi" ancestral shrine and make life-long promises (creating their future). They occupied the third floor of #3 Pearl Street, NYC Chinatown for years to follow. One of this first group of disciples was excommunicated and Lam Sifu extinguished the ancestral shrine incense by turning it upside down on that day! That signified that disciples end of brother-friendship in Lam Sifu's Pai!
Such power the Chinese Associations yielded in Boston, Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco Chinatowns that they sponsored the Late Lam Sang Sifu and his disciples during the late 1950's for lion dancing and kungfu demonstrations. The American economy was well enough that local Chinese organizations could support each student up to $700 per week during such celebrations!
Although, at the time, ordinary circumstances of survival were more difficult than the yearly travel and celebrations, each of the late Lam Sang's disciples supported their teacher and each other with daily jobs, often at menial wages. Each individual's money was laid on the kitchen (bread) table for the teacher's (and each other's) disposal.
Today, traditional kungfu schools are the opposite. Sifus support and pay their students to learn and teach in order to promote themselves! And although the operandi may changed the modus has not. It is still the recruiting of America's young children that propagates martial art for the future.
(Lam's disciples took their oath and obligations to Lam Sang and their kungfu training very seriously - it wasn't a fad, it was their life - it was who they were and who they became).
And the times they were a changing - as Bob Dylan sang. With another war (Vietnam) the late Lam Sifu saw his first Pai (family of disciples) change and adapt to survive. As the remaining disciples went to war or followed their fate, Lam may have felt homeless?
Circumstances, determination or fate left the "dai sihing" (senior brother) Wong Bak Lim to follow the tradition given him and he introduced the late Lam Sifu to the NYC Chinese Freemason Association in 1963. Although, begun some 199 years before with the razing of the Fukien Shaolin Temple, it was Taiwan's Republican Hero, Sun Yat Sen (1911) who fomented this "society with secrets" worldwide.
From the NYC Masons, Lam Sifu accepted a second generation of disciples which included Mark Gin Foon Sifu and Louie Jack Man. Other second generation disciples were Ah Chen, Lee, Chen, Bing, Lee and Kin. And they too stood before the Ancestral Shrine and made lifelong promises. It should be remembered there were scores of Association students but Lam Sifu only picked a few personal disciples in each of the three generations.
A few years later (mid sixties), Lam Sang, after closing his hands (retirement), left the USA for Taiwan where he lived until his return to NYC Chinatown in 1980. It is said that upon his return to the USA circa 1980 that Immigration denied Lam Sifu entry back to the USA and it was only with the help of his old cronies in the Chinese American Associations that he was granted entry again.
Most of his first and second generation disciples and many of his students and friends would see him regularly before he passed in 1991. During those last years Lam accepted a third generation of disciples; Ah Wong, Lee, Soo, Ng and Moy. It was Ah Lee who assisted Lam Sifu regularly during his last years.
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