To dive into the root of honorable masters we must first look to the context of Traditional Chinese Martial Art (TCMA) history. This is a topic that has always been very controversial! Chinese history, aside from TCMA, is so seamlessly knit together with legends and mystical stories alongside of historical events that it is extremely difficult to separate the two.
For example many Chinese scholars find it impossible to authenticate various authors of classical Chinese texts! Many historians debate the existence of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and even the famous Yellow Emperor, Huang Di. As if this problem isn't daunting enough, in other parts of Chinese history it is further compounded by the Chinese' cultural bias to name an originator of a technique, writing, or w/e under a previous master or another person altogether. 'In Chinese culture it is more desirable to have antiquity instead of personal merit.'
To take a serious look at TCMA history and Kwan Ying Do I first want to elaborate on some major problems I've found in traditional Chinese culture. Followed by my personal understanding of research I've done on Master Ong and the stories surrounding the origins of Kwan Ying Do...
In TCMA circles embellished stories run rampant, students worshiping their masters add fuel to the fire. Egos fueled by impossible claims are epidemic in TCMA communities. It destroys the face of TCMA and is like a sickness that takes good Kung Fu to an undeserved end by deterring growth.
When potential students look into the TCMA community it doesn't take long to see the confusion, lack of concrete focus, and symbolic expiation many teachers pass on as truth. With these many problems it makes perfect sense why TCMA is suffering and it's practitioners dwindling. The destruction of honest practices comes about by blindly accepting what your teacher professes without constructive criticism.
Knowing that all this goes on, how can we look to traditional martial arts or the masters of old and gain value?
The answer is simple, seek the truth by cross-examination, deeper practice, and honest questioning. Regardless of the embellishment, seek the principles that are meant by the movement or story. For this reason many Chinese classics have been signed in the name of an older author. This is partially to point to the fact that all truth is old, but it is also out of respect for the knowledge of the past. To put it bluntly this is also because the author is not important. Rather the material and its usefulness is the important thing, or to put it another way, 'The Tao is the important thing.'
Master Feeman Ong, (the originator of the Kwan Yin Do 群英道 [Qúnyīng dào] system) is a topic of great controversy in Chinese Martial Arts circles around the Ohio area. People have issues with some of the ways he taught and marketed himself, looking back into the 60s and 70s you'd be hard pressed to find any martial arts teacher who wasn't using shady mystical marketing tactics.
Regardless of how Feeman Ong took advantage of 1960 marketing trends one thing is always clear even when you talk to fellow masters who knew him and adamantly disliked him they still don't deny that his martial and healing skill was of very high esteem! Regardless of his uncertain history or 'feng shui-esk' explanations of techniques, I personally have always benefited greatly from the practice of Kwan Yin Do, and my students have as well.
The controversy surrounding Feeman Ong and various teachers within the lineage of Kwan Yin Do urges me to think very much about the true meaning of this art? Is it a way of honorable masters? Is it honorable to practice it? or does the controversy taint it so much that it isn't worth it.
I've wrestled with this question for a long time, for at least 10+ years now. I've been looking up everything I can find on Master Ong and trying to reach out to anyone who I can talk to for more input and looking into notes I have from various people from classes they took from the man in the 70s.
Best I can gather Master Ong was an immigrant who came here when he was fairly young, pursued a career as an architect (maybe?). He studied at Kent State and started teaching Kung Fu in the late 50s, possibly earlier. From sources outside of the Kwan Ying Do system I've come to find out that he angered the kung fu community at the time because apparently he hadn't gotten permission from his instructors to teach, let alone to teach foreigners. This leads me to some theories on how the name Kwan Ying Do came about.
I'm of the opinion that he changed the name of his art out of respect to his masters to shield them from the "blow back" of his personal decisions. For this reason he called his system something different than what his teachers did, also because he mixed a variety of styles together being that he created something 'new' it shouldn't keep the old name. This practice is not at all uncommon in martial arts, but it's a big no no in Chinese culture, especially if you didn't get permission to teach. The usual order of things is that you're 'allowed' to do this by your superiors after they give you the go ahead.
To make things a bit more muddy, Kwan Ying Do may not actually mean "Way of the Honorable Masters" The literal translation of the Chinese characters, 群英道 [Qúnyīng dào] is something akin to "Elite way" "Qunying road" or when you translate the characters individually "group, heroes, way". A person outside our system also proposed that Master Ong named Kwan Ying Do to pay homage to the Buddhist deity Kwan Yin, the goddess of compassion, because it is the deity that he as well as most of south east Asia pray to. So he named his system this in order to pay homage to his particular deity, a sort of cry to gain compassion because he never got permission to teach in the first place.
Whatever the reason this leaves us with 3 meanings:
Way of Honorable Masters,
The Elite Way, and
The Way of Kwan Yin, or a way which calls on the supreme deity of compassion.
All 3 of these I'm cool with, but even more than that I'm a realist. Chances are, like most immigrants in the 1950s, he was simply trying to make his way through college. He just so happened to actually be trained in Chinese Kung Fu from a young age and decided to make a financial killing, since he was already really good at it, and that's what he did. At the height of Kwan Ying Do influence in north east Ohio there were 4 thriving schools teaching Kwan Ying Do. All of them came about solely because of the skills of Master Feeman Ong and the ambition he had to spread his art regardless of whether the 'establishment' wanted him to or not.
What could be more American than that?!
I stand by all those decisions and find it very honorable. The teachings of Kwan Ying Do require discipline, perseverance, grit, and hard practice. Like any martial art it is great for a variety of things healing, strengthening, meditation and conditioning. In short I understand the motivations Master Ong must have had to teach, beyond just wanting to spread the benefits of his art. We all have many necessities that stay behind the scenes, one thing I know for sure is that there are strong rooted foundations to Feeman Ong's art that when you sweep off the dust it helps any who practice it. Over the years it has helped me shine as a greater person that I definitely wouldn't have been without it.
All of us have faults, we are human after all. It is important in training and learning from a teacher to learn ALL the lessons!
Don't make your teacher into an infallible master or grand master. Respect him as your teacher yet also an equal in life. Learn from him, trust his experience while coming to your own conclusions. In short as Jim Rohn says, "Be a good student, not a follower, but a student."
Keeping purity in our practice we can be compassionate of a persons experience and discern correct motives.
To practice a Way of Honor is to constantly uncover the essence of a thing. Seek the honorable 'masters' who've uncovered themselves honestly, and honor them, as well as yourself through your deep and dedicated practice of solid principles. More so seek to emulate the principles of honor found deep within. To me this is the way I practice Kwan Ying Do.
Whether it actually means "Way of Honorable masters" or not, I uphold myself to become an honorable master. If it means "Elite Way" seeking the principle and testing it will make it that way. Whether it is in homage to Kwan Yin or not loving compassion is a great sentiment to carry and give to all beings and this is what I do.
This is as I was taught the root of honorable masters...
"See through the red dust."
"When you drink a glass of water remember where it came from."
-Grandmaster Feeman Ong
Here's the link to the article that the photo was taken from. It's a good article.
Daniel R. Hyde
Licensed Massage Therapist
OIF, OEF Veteran
U.S. Marine Corps
Kwan Ying Do Kung Fu
Tai Chi Chuan
Tui Na, Chinese Massage
Shiatsu, Japanese Massage