Sifu Chan Tai San, the secret is there are no secrets….

20 Dec

September 2015 marked eleven years since Sifu Chan Tai-San passed away. He was legendary in mainland China; a war hero, a government appointed coach, a hand-to-hand instructor for a Foshan military group, a hard Qigong demonstrator who was sent overseas to spread Chinese martial arts, and named a “living national treasure”. In the United States, a small core of his direct students, most of whom had been trained by him personally in his apartment, opened several schools and spread his teachings. Personally, I wrote over 50 articles about Chan Tai-San and his methods in the 1990’s.

chan tai san chyuhn choih solo

A lot of people were touched by Chan Tai-San’s teachings, but the fact remains; very few directly interacted with him and very few were close to him. For one, he spoke no English. His Guangdonghua (Cantonese) wasn’t even that “standard”. I watched quite a few Chinese strain to understand his Taishanhua sub-dialect. He didn’t speak much Mandarin, I often ended up translating for him with other Chinese teachers from the north and Taiwan! Yes, that was weird.

chan tai san jyu geng paau choih

I’ve seen people latch onto Chan Tai-San and try to claim him as their teacher. It isn’t just dishonest (it’s fraud actually), but the worst part is they always do it and then throw a lot of mysticism and “secrets” ballyhoo into the mix. Those that actually studied with Chan Tai-San always find that amusing, because if there was one thing about training with Chan Tai-San, it was learning that in Chinese martial arts there really weren’t “secrets” in the sense that most people think about them.

Baai Si 2

I was the first American that Chan Tai-San formally adopted via “Baai Si”. That happened in 1991, with Michael Parrella being adopted at the same time. I have been told that two Chinese students had been adopted before that, one back in mainland China and another in New York City. But, never the less, I was very close to Chan Tai-San. I was, as I mentioned previously, often his translator. I was also put in charge of his public classes. I will tell you, there were no “secrets” to Chan Tai-San’s methods. There was proper technique, an attitude that had to accompany those techniques, and conditioning of various methods. There was a lot of two man drilling, and sparring! Yes, sparring.

Chan Tai San inside grip

We asked Chan Tai-San about “Dim Mak” at least a few times in those days. The answer I remember, which stuck in my head all these years, was Chan Tai-San talking about gouging eyes, stomping on legs, smacking ears, kicking the groin. All effective stuff, but not the “dim mak” most are hoping for.

me and cts

Anyone who spent time with Chan Tai-San also remembered that he was anything but the aloof, elitist, inscrutable Asian “master”. He was very much human, with both its positive and negative connotations. Nor was he “unbeatable”, as he personally reinforced by sharing with his students stories of him being beaten in many an encounter! Really, it’s a shame more teachers aren’t like him, he taught us all very valuable lessons… well, he taught the REAL students those lessons…

Read more about Chan Tai-San in my book;


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