Yesterday was the culmination of several weeks’ planning an event. It was to celebrate the 60th birthday of our revered chief instructor Dennis Ngo, and everyone in the club was sworn to secrecy. A show was rehearsed in sparring classes and those involved got together at various points throughout that time, hoping Dennis wouldn’t see anything he shouldn’t. (Apparently, there were a couple of close calls when people who wouldn’t normally have been in the training hall were there and he asked why. The excuses given seemed to have done the trick.)
My own journey to the banqueting hall began at lunchtime. I was to meet some of my girls at Finchley Central station so we could help set up, but there was a delay on the train caused by a trespasser on the line, which meant that I arrived in Victoria an hour later than scheduled. By the time I eventually got there, I was already in a black mood, but the rain also hadn’t let up, which meant I got wet as well. Hmph. However, once I arrived and headed to the ladies’ to change, things were already looking up. I met up with ‘my girls’ (Sharmin, India and Eleanor), many were already there (especially if they were involved in the performance) and there was a chance to catch up with people from other clubs who only ever seem to see each other at functions such as this one.
Eventually, instructor Karim, who had engineered all of this in the first place, stood up and announced that Dennis had arrived and we were all to be quiet. He walked in, thinking he was there for high tea, then realised what was going on and we all yelled, clapped and cheered. It was quite a moment. For all our organising, rehearsing and planning, Dennis never once suspected a thing.
It was time for the show, which was the story of the style and how Dennis brought it to the UK. Kristina played Fan Qiang Liang, the woman who founded the style, and part of the show involved her father (played by our instructor Dave) being stabbed. She had to pretend to cry, but it turned out that real tears fell onto Dave’s cheeks, because she imagined that he really had been stabbed. (This goes some way to explaining how we feel about our masters and instructors, and if you’ve seen Kung Fu Panda and the scene where Master Shifu asks Po if he wants to learn kung fu, Po says yes, and Shifu then says, ‘Then I am your master!’, you may realise why it’s so poignant – and always makes me cry.) A couple more of my girls (Kala and Jasmine) were part of the performance, playing bandits, Kristina (Fan Qiang Liang) learnt moves from a white crane and got bloody revenge on the bandits who had killed her father. Then the style was passed on to others and eventually one Dennis Ngo, ably played by his son Felix, took the style to the UK. The club motto was jokingly portrayed as being ‘Horse stance! Lower!’ Dennis’s wife Sharon played one of his first students (which she was) and it was all very funny. Finally, we were treated to patterns, including weapons patterns, from some of the instructors, to a background of music which was played by some of the others at the side of the stage. It was an emotional performance and not just because of Kristina’s real tears: I felt such a pride at being a part of this amazing club that I was barely holding it together myself.
A while after the performance, we ate. The food was simple but great, and during the meal, people from each table went up to toast Dennis. As a club, near the end of the meal, we also stood around Dave to toast him, as he is such a wonderful instructor and we all know how fortunate we are to be his students. (Echoes of Kung Fu Panda again: ‘I am very proud to have been your master,’ says Master Shifu. *sniff*)
The rest of the evening was spent dancing and taking photos – several pictures were printed there and then, placed into a photo album and signed by the people in them. I wrote, ‘Some of the best times and the best friends I ever had, and it’s all down to you – thanks, Dennis.’ (Before this, I’d had a moment to hand him a copy of my NaNoWriMo book from 2009 and admitted that I’d be scared if I thought of him reading it and he said, ‘Oh, I’ll read it!’ Part of me can’t wait to know his opinion and part of me is terrified!)
Some people got a bit drunk and a bit flirty (naming no names, because I’m nice like that), though that was no bad thing – it was basically (and I’m going to fall back on cliché, here) good, clean fun.
Later on, seeing as it was a Sunday and we had to get Tubes and trains home, people started to leave. Dave and his family had already left. Sharmin, India, Paul and I decided to leave together and we said goodbye to Dennis first. He told Sharmin and me how amazing we all looked and we told him in return how much we all love him. As the title says: life-affirming.
To be a part of a club such as this one is to feel a sense of belonging, family and true friendship. Our instructors are respected, but there’s room for mickey-taking (as Tim demonstrated by singing a version of My Old Man’s a Dustman – “My old man’s a shifu, he wears a shifu’s sash”, etc.). Once you’re a part of Fujian White Crane kung fu, it’s with you for life. (It was compared with chewing gum: once it’s stuck, you can never get rid of it!) But that’s just the way we like it.