Friday, February 10, 2017


by Phillip “Pete” Starr

The phrase “martial arts master” seems to have a particular sort of image associated with it. Many people immediately picture a white-haired, bearded, wizened old recluse of some kind who spends at least half of his time meditating on the mysteries of life and the other half practicing ancient martial arts techniques that have been cloaked in secrecy for several hundred years. The master is wise in all things; he is able to provide sage advice in every aspect of life, including (but not limited to) personal finances, marriage, virtually every facet pertaining to physical and mental health (and, by the way, he is perfectly capable of treating most illnesses and injuries via his high level of knowledge and skill in ancient forms of Eastern medical therapies), purchasing a home, preparing one's annual income tax return, or even how to field dress a deer.

I can see some of you smiling while others laugh openly. Those who laugh are probably those old martial arts teachers who've actually had students approach them with questions about such things. I have. All of them (that's right; go back and look through the list). How to field dress a deer?, you ask. You betcha. And many other equally bizarre subjects about which I know absolutely nothing. Yes, I have practiced and taught kung-fu for most of my life. I am also an acupuncturist and I hold black belt grades in two forms of Japanese karate. I enjoy practicing iaido, too. But my understanding of personal finances, investing money, marriage and generally understanding women are right up there with my knowledge about how to field dress a deer, rebuilding a truck's engine, or treating schizophrenia. I have, by the way, been asked about each item mentioned in this paragraph.

People will not be easily dissuaded from the image of the wizened old master that they hold firmly in their minds. A perfect example would be my dear friend, Master Arthur Lee (dec.). Arthur was probably the world's highest authority on the old Shaolin Fut-Ga system and his skill was truly second to none. But you'd never guess that this kind, well-dressed Chinese gentleman knew anything about the martial arts. Slightly built, soft-spoken, and extremely polite at all times, Arthur's demeanor never revealed his tremendous skill. He had worked for Sears for many years and was always ready to laugh and share a joke.

My kung-fu uncle, Master Ming Lum (dec.), is another fine example. One of Henry Okazaki's earliest jujutsu pupils in Hawaii, Master Lum was also very highly skilled in Choy Li Fut. And he would certainly be one of the last people anyone would suspect of being a master of a martial art. He stood perhaps 5' 4” (on his tiptoes), had one prosthetic arm (with a blunted hook instead of a hand), and smoked like a train. And no matter what the weather or the event (such as festivals, funerals, and weddings), Uncle Ming always wore a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt. However, he was hailed as a renowned master by virtually every martial arts teacher who ever met him.

Authentic masters may well work as train conductors, plumbers, school teachers, or any other profession. The real ones don't walk around with their chests puffed out, proclaiming their accomplishments. They're ordinary people except for one thing; they've walked a path that most people will never see.