RUNNING ON EMPTY
Huang Jifu (1934-1995)
by Dan Docherty (Combat 1995)
Terrible news. On the morning of Wednesday, May 3rd, Mr. Huang Jifu, Vice Chairman of the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts, collapsed and died in Malden, Surrey.
Some of you may not have heard of him, he did not seek publicity and yet he probably had the widest and deepest experience of Chinese martial arts and in particular Tai Chi Chuan of anyone in Britain.
I am sure others like Peter Warr who were closer to Jifu and knew him longer will write in, but I'd like to say something too. When I first came across him in 1990 in Taiwan I was caught up in martial arts politics between him and others. Not having talked to him it was easy to believe that he was my enemy as well as the enemy of my allies. That was one side of the story and is now very much water under the bridge.
Over the years I heard many people complain about Jifu, but well-respected people like Dick Watson spoke highly of him. So what was the reality ?
In 1992, I applied to join the BCCMA, guess who was chairman of the assessment panel? Things were cool at first, but a dialogue had started. We met with increasing regularity at various functions until last year he asked me to put on a competition to select a Tai Chi team to take part in the Chung Hwa Cup in Taiwan. He supported my every proposal and fought for money for the team - incidentally he claimed nothing for himself.
As the team leader under difficult circumstances, he was a tower of strength and was well-respected by and popular with all team members. He stood up for the team over every instance of unfairness on the part of the Taiwanese. He was unfailingly helpful in giving advice or interpreting for team members. Aidan Cochrane, who went to the funeral with me, christened him "The Jiff".
He did not stand on ceremony or keep himself aloof, but was one of us. He was witty. He was mischievous, humourous and damned good company. I spoke to him often in Cantonese. We had much in common as we had both been university students and then police officers; he in Singapore, I in Hong Kong. He had known the former Singapore premier Lee Kuan-yew personally having worked under him when in the Anti-Corruption Branch.
He had in his youth trained with my teacher and with his uncle, Cheng Wing-kwong, when a member of the Chin Woo Athletic Association in Singapore.
He was President and one of the founding members of the British Chin Woo Athletic Association and shortly before his death had found permanent premises for the Association.
When Kim Han, BCCMA Wu Shu Team Coach, broke the news to me of Jifu's death, my first reaction was that it was some kind of joke as I'd talked to him on the phone the day before and had seen him at a demo given by the Shaolin monks the day before that. Sam Kwok had a similar reaction when I told him the news as he'd also been talking to Jifu on Tuesday - about devising an NVQ syllabus for Wing Chun.
I knew Jifu was taking medication because I'd seen him taking pills for his blood pressure last summer in Taiwan and at the London Festival of Chinese Martial Arts (which would not have taken place without his support) he'd told me he was having treatment for a heart condition. Perhaps that was why he did a demonstration of the rare Wu Yu-xiang style Tai Chi Chuan; perhaps he knew it would be the last time. After the Festival he said to me that he intended to join the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain as he wanted to demonstrate solidarity with me. He is now a member.
At Jifu's funeral on May 6th, Ray Smith, BCCMA Chairman, said that it would be necessary for three or four people to take over Jifu's duties; that is a measure of the importance of his contribution to Chinese martial arts in this country. Perhaps it was the onerous nature of these duties which hastened his demise. He kept up a schedule of travelling and business that a much younger man would find demanding.
He travelled with British Chinese martial arts teams to competitions all over the world and he knew and was known and respected by leading masters. He was a consummate politician and diplomat and no one man can replace him.
In Taiwan I joked with Jifu that Lao Tzu had said that robbers only exist because there are sages, therefore he said, "Exterminate the sages.", but that I hadn't yet worked out whether he was a robber or a sage. Certainly he was an enigma; he was not even born Huang Jifu, but had changed his name - including his surname years ago. To his friends and those he chose to help, he was warm, generous and understanding. Others saw him as obstructive, plausible and elitist. Perhaps he was at various times all of these things, perhaps you have to be if you are a martial arts politician.
In the end I believe that he was sincere in attempting to do what he thought was for the best to promote and develop Chinese martial arts and I am glad that I had the chance to travel along the road with him even if it was for a short time. I intend to try to continue the work he encouraged me to start.
It is a measure of the respect that people had for him that martial arts friends from Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong were intending to come to his funeral until they realised that it was impossible due to the short notice.
Finally Jifu was most fortunate in having an understanding and supportive wife who truly loved him. Our sympathies go out to Mrs. Huang and to his daughter Tao Tao.
REQUIEM FOR A TAI CHI BODYGUARD
Cheng Tin-hung (1930 – May 7, 2005)
by Dan Docherty
His appearance was unprepossessing when first I met him in his Mongkok flat in October 1975. With his belly hanging over his shorts, his cigarette dangling in the corner of his mouth as he talked, with his flip flops, string vest and unshaven mien, he didn’t look the part of a top level Tai Chi master or indeed a top level anything else. Yet he was also a voracious reader of history and philosophy and a writer of many books on Tai Chi Chuan, an amateur geomancer and fortune-teller, who changed his name of Cheng Ngar-man to the more propitious Cheng Tin-hung
A Horse who later declared himself to be a Dragon, in his heyday from 1956 – 1980 he was the best known combat Tai Chi Chuan master in South East Asia and, though he never went to the Americas, he was better than anything I saw from there too.
He first made his name in the 50s, a time when many Hong Kong residents took up Tai Chi as a cure for TB. Gentle Tai Chi people practicing in the parks were being bullied by external martial artists, so they would ask his help and he would go and do some Tai Chi bullying of his own.
Then in 1956 teams from Hong Kong and Macau were annihilated in Taiwan in a three way international full contact competition. He was the only one to win, defeating the three times middleweight full contact champion of Taiwan. He then met and pushed with Cheng Man-ching and while impressed with his softness, didn’t rate him as a fighter. He never had too much time for the Kuomintang anyway.
Over the years he led his students to numerous victories over external martial artists.
I fought for him in Hong Kong in 1976 and then at the 4th South East Asian Chinese \Martial Arts Championships in Singapore where he offered me anabolic steroids – I refused. Finally I fought in the 5th when South East Asian Chinese \Martial Arts Championships in Malaysia in 1980, that annus mirabilis. Tai Chi brother Tong Chi-kin and I were the only male champions from Hong Kong and the only Tai Chi fighters in the whole competition.
He began working with the Sport & Recreation Dept of the HK government in 1976 by providing teachers for morning classes set up in the housing estates to improve public health and well-being – my ex-wife and her mother were amongst the many who attended. He then devised teacher training programmes for the government which run to this day.
He taught millionaires like Sir Tang Shiu-kin, but also street people and treated them all differently according to what he perceived to be their merits or demerits. A man of extremes, he taught in Japan more than 40 years ago, and said he tried to have intercourse with as many women as possible in revenge for the war (they shot him in the leg). He said the Judo people could sometimes throw him if he wore a Gi, but not otherwise.
It was late in life before he started to come to the West. Tai Chi brother and fellow Scot, Ian Cameron and I arranged for him to teach in Scotland in 1981, in Scotland and Southern England in 1986 & 1987. I taught with him in Australia in 1988 and 1989. Despite continuing ill health from the mid-70s onwards due to a genetic condition of diabetes, he never lost interest in people and events until close to the end.
We opened a disastrous restaurant business together in his then village (now town) of San Xiang in Guangdong and the only benefits I ever got from it were a few beers and a lot of bitter melon.
I travelled with him all over Hong Kong – he loved hill-walking, chanting poetry and explaining to us the medicinal properties of plants. But he also used to take me to meetings of the Hong Kong Chinese Martial Arts Association where I got to know famous masters like Wong Sun-leung, Chan Hon Chung and Chan Sau-Chung. In 1984 I went with him to Beijing, the Northern Shaolin temple and Wudang Mountain. I have returned to all of them since and none remains the same.
Many times also I ate and slept in his house and that was when I really learned things. I was introduced to him through the kind offices of George Button, Chief Physical Training Officer in the Royal Hong Kong Police Training School. And quit all the other arts I was practicing within a few days of our first meeting.
His many pygmy detractors lied constantly about him throughout his life as mine now do about me. There is no point to argue with teenage scribblers in time retributive Karma will catch up with them all – in the meantime our legacy and our success are the best answer and revenge.
There are lies too about him and the Wu family. Eddie Wu admitted in Tai Chi Chuan magazine that Cheng Tin hung was at one time head of the Wu lineage, but my master never made that claim. After he threw Wu Gong-yi to the ground and told him his kung fu was in his mouth and not his hands, all contact with the Wus was lost – and with no regret. Some people said I should go to Wang Pei-sheng to learn – a guy who spent 15 years plus in the Chinese gulag who taught form by acupuncture points ,,, give me a break – please.
He was courageous to the end, last time I saw him in September 2004 we talked about Old Gold, about my girl and boy, about dead friends and he said as we said our last good- bye that he had left the Wudang gate and that it was my world. I and we will do our best, but I guess he always knew that. I hope he had smooth winds when he crossed over at about 10pm on May 7th 2005.
Requiesce in Pace.