More on the late Chan Tai-San

2 Sep

You can buy “Authentic Lama Pai: The teachings of the late Chan Tai-San” at

Sifu chan Tai-San had both Chinese and American students. The Americans were the majority at the Gee How Oak Tin Association on Bayard street. That was really because Chinese students would often come, were confronted with Sifu’s personality head on, and would opt for another arrangement.


I think sifu was even harder on his Chinese students, he expected they know every aspect of the “proper” things to do in the kung fu world, even if they were “juk sing” (ABC)… Considering the grief he gave me, an American with no previous Chinese cultural training, over stuff like the right place to put a tea cup or the correct time to pour tea, I can only imagine the sort of stuff he expected of Chinese students…


Other times, Sifu Chan would be contacted by all Chinese groups to teach on a contract basis. Sifu Chan, as was his nature, would of course take the money, then often mess with the heads of those groups. It was like “I am Chan Tai San, and I thumb my nose at you and your thinking you are anyone”

Sifu Chan’s favorite “trick” was to take the money and then have a monkey, usually me, a lowly gwai loh, do the actual teaching. I got used to the drill. He’d tell me to show up some place at a certain time. By the time I’d shown up, Sifu had taken the money and closed the deal, he’d usually start something with the group. Then, as soon as I arrived, he’d hand them all over to me and LEAVE…. I taught in the White Crane school, and in 4 or 5 different “associaitons” over the years because of this “trick”…


I remember two times when this created an actual argument. The head of one of the associations was absolutely not going to accept a dumb monkey teaching his members, especially when he thought he had paid for famous Chan Tai san. Sifu Chan simply told the guy, “anyone here that can beat him?” The answer was no. So Chan told him basicly “stuff it” (actually, he said something about crabs that don’t smell too good and something about seeds withering for those of you who speak Cantonese).

One time, I showed up at the school of a famous Chinatown Sifu. My sifu was teaching this Chinese guy. I assumed he must be a senior student who the famous teacher wanted to get some extra stuff for. I can’t tell you how many big name teachers in the US paid my sifu to come and give them some extra stuff. The list is LONG and is BIG NAMES. Well, Sifu Chan hands him off to me like always. Like always, I proceed, in Cantonese. Prior to this, every time I taught, I was teaching guys who only spoke Cantonese. I went on for about an hour….

At the end of this hour, I heard the guy, in English ask me, “uh, do you speak English?” Poor guy, never had the courage to speak up before this. Apparently, he was ABC and didn’t speak Chinese. His sifu had set up the appointment, he’d shown up, been first confronted with Sifu Chan, then me! I’d rambled on for an hour in Cantonese, not one word of English…


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