Cranes in Okoyama: more on martial arts politics 

This month I’ve been in Tokyo. It’s reminded me of my first visit to the city, and an unusual coincidence that I discovered when I returned home.

In June 2014 Yap Cheng Hai died. He was ranked seniormost of Chee Kim Thong’s original five disciples. It was Yap who tracked Master Chee down in Dungun. While Master Chee was teaching some Northern Fist routines to people in the village, Yap persuaded him to share his real treasures, such as Wuzuquan, and to establish a school in Kuala Lumpur. Students such as myself would not have heard of Chee Kim Thong’s arts without this decisive intervention. Later in his life, affairs in the Chee Kim Thong Pugilisitic and Health Society turned sour. There were divisions. It seems to me that nobody involved behaved impeccably. Yap’s death prompted many of us to reflect on our organisation’s politics and the future of Master Chee’s arts.

When I returned from Japan in 2014 I learned of Yap’s death, and realised that I had an experience the day he died that seemed relevant to our group. I spent that day in Okayama, and walked around Korakuen, one of Japan’s famous gardens. I was surprised suddenly to find myself face to face with eight cranes. Sadly I didn’t get a good photo. It was tradition to keep the birds in Korakuen, but the story of the current family of cranes was especially interesting. They had descended from two cranes that were donated to the garden by a Chinese scholar named Guo Moruo in 1956. Guo had studied in Okayama as a young man. He was depressed by the condition of Okayama in the post-war years, and decided to do something to help the city.

Given that the memories of China’s war with Japan were so recent, it’s striking that a Chinese man would make this gesture. Guo himself had fought against the Japanese forces. It requires a certain circumspection to separate long-standing grievance, and general sentiment, from our day-to-day dealings. Was Guo kind, magananimous, practical, or wrongheaded? There’s something in his gift that warrants reflection on when it is best to set aside differences. The two cranes he donated have become more than sixty,

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