Traditional roles of Master and Disciple

The role of Disciple and Master: requirements and expectations...

The world of today with its consumerism, slick advertising, computer technology and accompanying largely rootless, superficial values is a far cry from the world Grandmaster Chee was brought up in. One of the concepts most difficult for the modern, Western mind to grasp is that of Discipleship. It is a concept poorly understood, and perhaps a little tarnished by its connotations of religious fanaticism, not to mention an apparent surrender of a large portion of personal liberty, with the disciples’ freewill being sacrificed to that of the Master.

However, in the world of Old China, to be a disciple of a true Gong Fu Master was both a great honour, and ultimately a protection. The concept of traditional Gong Fu discipleship is based on the wisdom that in surrendering a little, one gains much more.

This is unsurprising in a part of the world where the spiritual philosophy of Daoism and to a certain extent that of Buddhism thrive, for both teach the supreme spiritual and practical value of self-mastery [essentially mastery of ones negative emotions, through the application of rigorous self-discipline].

Of old a Master would not declare his powers, lest it provoke envy and troubles: In the actual words of Grandmaster Chee Kim Thong, quoting the great Chinese Philosopher [Confucius]

‘Ten thousand battles, ten thousand victories. Better to remain quiet’ ‘Ten thousand words, ten thousand arguments.
Better to remain silent.’

In other words empty vanity and boasts, lead to needless trouble and danger for the martial artist who fails to live by this wisdom.

In Old China, if a Master could not for all he tried, conceal his nature and powers, many would be drawn to him to request instruction in the arts to protect themselves from violent men in troubled times, while others would look to him to protect them.

In this way a recognised master would attract many followers from amongst which a small band of the most potentially gifted for learning the arts, would become his martial arts disciples. These principles and the phenomenon of the Gong Fu Master-Disciple relationship survived into modern times and changing circumstances.

The youth and early manhood of Grandmaster Chee fit the age-old pattern of the tradition, and is the very material of which Gong Fu legends are made. In his latter years the tradition was maintained but with some evolution to fit the circumstances of the modern world.

Men who loved the arts for those arts sake – the traditional reasons for seeking discipleship - and who wished to undergo the full rigours of training which went with the honour of being a disciple, were waning as life became less harsh, and more consumerist.

Yet violence and men of violence still troubled the part of the world Master Chee settled in: so the desirability for seeking the protection of the name of such a Master through association, remained. Moreover, due to a variety of factors Westerners increasingly became aware of the legends and powers attributed to Gong Fu masters.

Some became so enamoured of the glamour of the arts as to try to form connections with Chinese Gong Fu masters, and most of all with Grandmasters, of whom few remained, and of these one of the most renowned was Master Chee.

In these changed circumstances we find that the concept of discipleship went through some subtle evolution. There were students (who so to speak only ever received the ‘Mao Pi’ [‘hair and skin’] of the teachings of a Master and his System: ie they were only taught the surface level teachings and no more), disciples, honorary disciples, and Inner Chamber Disciples: these last constituted those most akin to the disciples of a master in China of old.

Inner Chamber Disciples were few in number, a mere handful of select individuals – of which Shifu Alan Tinnion was one - who underwent the full Rites of Initiation. Of all types and grades of disciple, the Inner Chamber Disciples were the most important, and most senior in the traditional sense.

Others may be more senior in terms of age, and these in line with traditional Gong Fu etiquette were always accorded respect, but this respect should not be confused with the special kind accorded to the Inner Chamber Disciples in the personal esteem of the Master, for these were his spiritual sons enjoying the unique role and privilege of being the real Guardians of the Arts and of the Lineage.

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