Wow, to say that it seems like yesterday that I first picked up the phone and called Sifu Bob Schneider about taking Kung Fu classes would be an understatement. Kung Fu had always been on my to-do list but I had just never taken that first step. It was a step that led to the most rewarding years of my life. Both me and Sifu Eric celebrate 25 years at WKFA this spring and I’d like to take this opportunity to share some highlights and changes with you, my Kung Fu family.
WKFA is testament to the fact that Kung Fu is a journey, not a destination and that a calculated change is something to be embraced; not shunned. This is definitely not the school I joined all those years ago; we have evolved to meet the needs of modern society while never losing sight of our traditional roots. We teach Kung Fu, we only teach Kung Fu, and we have resisted the temptation to expand into other disciplines for the sake of profit.
Something that hasn’t changed is our expectation (especially for those attaining the rank of green or higher) that you are here because you want to become a martial artist. We do not have men and women, we do not have old and young, we do not have big and small; we have martial artists and the expectations are the same for all. Everything that students attain they earn, nothing is given away, that’s why we have the best Kung Fu school and the best instructors anywhere.
When Eric and I began our Kung Fu training the highest rank in the school was green and we had no students over 40. As a result senior students were expected to assume a greater leadership role than we have today. Green sash students were expected to conduct warm-ups and even lead some classes. How things have changed.
Here are a few of my personal highlights:
- Our first board breaking seminar was held during the summer of 1989. There were a few scrapped knuckles and a few bruises, but only one broken knuckle. As a white sash (yes we used to start at white, not red) it was one of the most intimidating things I had ever done in my life, but how rewarding it was when I punched through my first board. I think that overcoming that obstacle was my first real step in a long journey.
- We were always expected to arrive early for class and run at least 1km before class for our warm-up. I must confess that I absolutely hated running…still do.
- In the early 90s Master Pan Qing Fu came into our lives and for me this was the most significant turning point for WKFA. Until that time we were loosely modelled on the teaching methodology of Kitchener Kicks, where Sifu Bob trained under Sigung Ron Day. Master Pan instilled Kung Fu values in us and laid the foundation for us to embrace traditional Chinese Kung Fu. He lived with Sifu Bob for two years and during that period both Sifu Eric and I became quite close with him, often being treated to impromptu private classes after having him over for dinner. Try doing the 5 Tiger Staff form on a full stomach, under the watchful and critical eye of one of the top martial artists in the world.
Master Pan not only developed our FF form but significantly changed our Tiger, Leopard, Dragon, and staff form. Changes to many of our other forms came as a direct result of Sifu Bob’s training with Master Pan. That’s why our forms look very different from Kitchener Kicks forms, even though that is where Sifu Bob learned Kung Fu. If you want to learn more about the roots of Master Pan watch the movie Iron & Silk or read the book by the same name.
- That friendship lead to Sifu Eric and I being invited to play the role of Pan’s students in the movie “Talons of the Eagle”. The Ferocious Fist form was created by Master Pan for the movie; he also choreographed all of the fight scenes. Learning the FF form was one of the most gruelling training regimens I’ve ever undertaken. Mistakes were not tolerated and we would work small sections of the form until everyone could do it perfectly. We trained for hours at a time with Master Pan and dedicated just as much time on our own. I gained a new respect for actors when we were on set filming for about 30 hours over two days.
- Our blue sash grading was also the first black sash grading in the history of WKFA. We knew that this grading would be a big deal, but nothing could have prepared us for the reality of the day. It was a tough and in some ways brutal grading. Many observers were questioning their sanity and felt that attaining black at WKFA was the impossible dream. The sparring, for Scott anyway, was full contact and kickboxers from Kitchener Kicks were brought in to spar with him. As time progressed we realized that this was the exception rather than the rule. In the end Scott Weiler became our first black sash instructor.
- I believe it was 1994 when we graduated our first female black sash. Not to diminish the accomplishments of our newer female instructors but when Bev Burtwell tested for black it was not a common occurrence for a woman to attain the rank of black sash, in any school. Up until the 90s martial arts really was a male dominated activity. Acceptance of women in the martial arts is something that has really changed for the better over the last 20 or so years.
- It was soon after our brown sash grading that full colour sashes were introduced, starting with brown. Before that we used the red sash with stripes the same as we do for our junior students.
- Then came our black sash grading in 1995. Somehow we always managed to be involved in milestone gradings. This was the first all brown/black advanced grading that we conducted. A brown/black grading is not a common occurrence; Kitchener Kicks has only held one brown/black grading in the history of their school, it also happened to be Sifu Bob’s black sash grading. We have held two at WKFA, but the second wasn’t to come for another 17 years.
- It wasn’t until 2005 that Sifu Bob introduced our degree system for black sash instructors. Both Eric and I were honoured to receive our 3rd degree at the last Christmas party that Sifu Bob would attend.
- We used to have many more social or semi social events for adults. One of the highlights was always Kung Fu weekend at the Kraushaar’s home away from home just outside Hanover. Students arrived with tents sleeping bags, food and libations for a weekend of fun and training. Events included runs through the bush (I always tended to arrive late to avoid this treat), raft sparring, breaking, forms in the sand, sparring on the grass, and practical self-defense, including a hundred ways to throw dirt in someone’s eyes. We always managed to have at least one completely social adult event, often a BBQ and campfire at Sifu Eric’s lot near Conestoga. I love the kids and it’s great to be inclusive of our youth and junior students but adult only activities have suffered. I’ll lay down a challenge to the adult LT members; get some adult only social events planned.
- Sifu Bob Schneider moulded WKFA as his own skills and personality evolved over the years. He was our teacher, our mentor, but mostly our friend. His untimely death came as a stomach blow; he was Waterloo Kung Fu. After the initial shock began to fade, our thoughts turned towards the future and the school could have taken many directions at that point but we had a young Sifu that wasn’t overly enamoured with the life of a chartered accountant and took over the reins of WKFA.
- Sifu Dave is a committed, dedicated leader and the school has grown significantly under his leadership, without sacrificing the roots that Sifu Bob nurtured. The most significant change is in the children’s programs. We probably have about double the number of youth, junior, and Little Ninja students than we had when he took over the reins. And, having kids of his own has allowed Sifu to show more empathy towards parents than was evident before he took over the school.