By Timothy Mrazek
Master Lee Chi Wai is my Sifu. His background and expertise as a martial artist are exceptional; few can match in depth and scope and his abilities are excellent. Even after many years of study under his guidance, it is still hard to fathom his wisdom. His tireless promotion of the traditional arts has earned him international respect and dozens of awards his skills and contributions. But what is really important is his ability to help students realize their own understanding and path to success.
He’s opened many doors and minds, assisting others in their journeys. His own experience testifies that the arts of China are a viable pursuit for both health and self-defense. I’ve had the honour of competing together with Master Lee as a Canadian Kung Fu team member. Master Lee has shown me the real value of competition: that there is value in every outcome; that the competition is within–the struggle to test oneself under pressure; to strive for a high level of expression and creativity; that outward success–the show, trophies, ranking are unimportant; and that martial arts can build friendship and promote a healthy way of life.
The best martial artists are the excellent teachers; those rare individuals who give the next generation the opportunity to excel and perhaps even surpass the achievements of the past. The circle of life, the function of society and the preservation of valuable, relevant knowledge is ensured. Teaching, helping others with a sincere heart is good for the spirit. It is built on compassion; we too can learn to care for ourselves and others and find our way in the world.
I highly recommend learning from Master Lee. His teaching style is encouraging and gentle. Each student is unique. Rather than demand an exact reproduction of skills, he encourages students to look for underlying principles and apply them to their own efforts. He maintains that Kung Fu is for everyone. First, you only need an open mind and desire to learn. Master Lee shares his knowledge when the student is ready. For most, it’s a simple matter of asking and receiving.
From the newest beginner to seasoned professionals, he adjusts his action and intensity to guide the student. In this way, everyone benefits when they have a chance to have Master Lee as a training partner. For those who would try to test their skill, he would always calmly counter, redirect and neutralize anything presented. He could also send back some of the student’s force, and there was never any doubt that what came back was checked and toned down. It is a humbling experience, knowing that your best technique was tried, failed and countered so easily. It isn’t whether or not you need to train more – it’s knowing how much more you need to train!
I’ve had many opportunities to watch, follow and emulate his teaching methods. Despite my still-developing understanding, I strive to master the ideas behind his methods as I find my own way. For those who would be teachers of any kind, Master Lee is an excellent role model.
His Chung Wah Kung Fu System strives to go beyond what traditional martial arts have ever done and offers what contemporary sports will never have. At its essence is the study of human life sciences, paired with the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine. The physical exercises achieve an integration of the neuromuscular system and can help achieve one’s potential while the internal health training promotes a natural health balance within the practitioner. With practice, one can reach exceptional physical abilities while enjoying robust health and mental-emotional wellbeing. Thus, Master Lee’s program is a reliable blueprint that one can use to change their life toward optimal health and wellbeing, greater self-understanding and self-actualization.
Master Lee is quiet, humble and reserved. He doesn’t talk about himself or his background much. He speaks fondly of his teachers and many martial arts masters. Recognizing the good in others, he reminds us that each person has their own areas of expertise. He avoids conflict and doesn’t readily argue. He has strong principles and those who listen must always gain something. He values many traditional teachings and customs but is also a pragmatist, letting go of ideas that have been proven wrong or no longer benefit our times.
Learning from Master Lee can take place in a wide variety of settings. Many profound lessons were given over tea as we sat quietly and talked. Sometimes when he’d feel we were ready, he’d open a topic and let us ask questions. On careful reflection, we’d find his words pointed to the next layers for us to ponder.
Martial arts can transform one’s emotional disposition. Master Lee has maintained that the practice of Kung Fu exercises should balance the individual in their physical abilities and their mental-emotional disposition. The importance of health and medical principles in the teachings are at the forefront.
Watching him resolve his own conflicts, he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. He regards the situation from multiple perspectives and is not easily swayed by emotions. He is kind, good-humoured and forgiving. This helps him to be a great healer and physician. While science and technique are important, everything begins and ends with the interrelationship of people. Offering advice and insight or simple consolation, he is educating his students and patients. Mind, body and spirit are inseparable in healing.
Master Lee has himself drawn from the guidance and expertise of many. He is quick to acknowledge that everyone has something to offer and encourages continual learning. Master Lee has inspired my studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I became a Naturopathic Medical Doctor and now practice in Regina. Through Master Lee, I’ve met people from all over the world. I’ve seen places and learned about cultures far from my own. Kung Fu should broaden our mind and open our heart. Our school’s activities also showed me the importance of volunteerism and charity work within the community.
Discipleship in the Chinese Kung Fu tradition is a bond between teacher and student. The master guides the student to deeper study, and the disciple commits to passing the teaching on to others. After many years of study, Master Lee accepted me as his first disciple. Today, my students are learning from Master Lee through me.
Recognizing the importance of what he has to teach, my wife and mother-in-law are also senior disciples of Master Lee. Together, we do our best to share Master Lee’s program. Our school in Regina has a wonderful group of students, from toddlers to elders. We continue a strong relationship with our teacher, part of an extended Kung Fu family.
Master Lee maintains that Kung Fu can teach us how to find our personal balance in life, and that even if a person reaches mastery in one area of life but is neglectful in others, their realization of Kung Fu is not complete.
A patient teacher, Master Lee understands the importance of giving people the time and space they need to find their own way in life. He does not refuse those sincere in learning. He goes out of his way to make himself available, sacrificing his personal time and energy.
From my beginnings with him, I learned the skills of Kung Fu, step by step, and have derived many good things. I hesitate to imagine how my health and life would be without Kung Fu, or having been guided by someone else. Practicing Kung Fu, developing your total self, is a uniquely challenging and engaging process that is also immensely rewarding. It’s been my relationship with my Sifu that has been founded on respect, trust and dedication that has made the difference.
After almost thirty years of study, I’m still learning. As I write these reflections I’m filled with a sense of gratitude and honour, for all that my Sifu’s given me.
Thank you Sifu!