Kung Fu Master
Kung Fu Master
Par and I made our way out of the studio. When we got to the far end, I stopped and bowed to the picture of the sifu. I’d seen the other students doing it when they entered and left the training area. Outside, Par and I walked toward the bus stop.
“Okay, I have an idea, Jon,” said Par. “We could tell everyone that your sifu found out you were trying to train the kids and told you it was forbidden. And you have to honor your teacher, right?”
“You think Tyler would fall for that?” I asked.
“You never know. What else are you going to do?”
The evolution of Canadian children’s fiction in recent decades has seen an increase in the number of authors from diverse backgrounds as well as the number of works that portray culturally diverse characters in contemporary settings. In relation to the Chinese community in Canada, this growth of diverse perspectives can be seen through the works of authors such as Paul Yee, Marty Chan, Echo Liu, Day's Lee and Ting-Xing Ye. Specifically, this is part of a broader literary trend in Canada that recognizes the value of including stories, experiences, and perspectives that reflect the cultural diversity of the communities in which people live and is exemplified through anthologies such as the recently published Toward the North: Stories by Chinese Canadian Authors (2018) which includes stories dealing with racial discrimination, pressures of cultural assimilation, and other issues that impact Chinese immigrants’ lives in contemporary Canada.
Marty Chan’s Kung Fu Master contributes to this body of work by portraying a young person of Chinese heritage in a contemporary context. The book centres around Jon Wong, a young Chinese Canadian student who is not good at math or science. The book’s opening scene sets the stage for what is to follow. After a science experiment goes awry, class bully Tyler Mason warns Jon that he is in trouble if he does not replace his phone.
The story’s plot unfolds from this opening scenario. After Jon and his best friend Parmeet watch a kung fu movie and act out some moves from it at school, his classmates think that Jon actually knows kung fu. With Tyler and his friends heckling in the background, Jon feels that this is his chance to show Tyler up. The temptation is too much for Jon as he wants to fit in and be liked by his classmates, and so he succumbs and pretends that he is a kung fu master.
Things start to get out of hand very quickly when his classmates plead with Jon to teach them a few moves. He and Parmeet quickly look up some videos to learn some basic kung fu fast so that Jon can teach his classmates. However, they had not counted on the fact that their classmate Megan would actually be proficient in kung fu. Consequently, Jon relents and tells Megan that he wants to get Tyler off his back and that is why he wishes to teach his classmates some moves. After hearing Jon’s story, Megan decides to get involved with their scheme as she agrees that Tyler could use a lesson. However, when Jon lets things get to his head and starts to treat Megan and Parmeet as his lackeys, the scheme starts to unravel and events come to a head when Tyler challenges Jon to a fight. It is through this that Jon learns the true meaning of friendship.
The book also deals with cultural stereotypes associated with the Chinese community and the problems that such stereotypes can cause. Indeed, Jon is frustrated because his classmates assume that, just because he is Chinese, he is good at math and science and that he knows kung fu. Far from Jon’s being a “natural” at kung fu as his friend Parmeet thinks, it is Jon’s classmate Megan who is the expert. Furthermore, Jon is not good at math, science, or even cooking, three things that some people may associate stereotypically with the Chinese community. Chan’s story subtly suggests that positive stereotypes are problematic because they place unrealistic expectations on people that have no basis in reality or that cannot be achieved.
The book’s language is suitable for its targeted readership of ages nine to twelve. Given the text’s level of linguistic complexity, readers younger than nine years of age can still enjoy the story if they have parents, teachers, or other adults to assist them with reading comprehension when needed. Having some knowledge of this cultural context would enrich their reading of the book because Chan does include references to Chinese cultural practices and traditions, but this knowledge is not essential to enjoying the story. Regardless of young readers’ cultural background, they can still understand and readily identify with the general plot of Kung Fu Master which deals with someone who is bullied and who desires to fit in and be liked or admired by others.
Kung Fu Master can be included in a variety of pedagogical contexts. In public schools, teachers could situate the book in relation to the context of contemporary Chinese Canadian experiences and encourage discussion about what it means to be a part of that cultural community. More broadly, teachers could use the story as an example of how, for various reasons, young people face peer pressure in school. At the university or college level, this book would fit well into a children’s literature course and could be situated in relation to relevant literary, cultural, and historical contexts.
Chan’s engaging story will teach children a valuable lesson in humility, the acceptance of one’s own limitations, and the importance of valuing oneself. Indeed, Jon comes to realize that it is unimportant whether or not he knows kung fu. Instead, he learns the importance of being humble and being himself, recognizing that his supposed flaws or deficiencies are what make him unique.
Marty Chan, an award-winning author and playwright, is based in Edmonton, Alberta. For more information about his work, visit his website.
Huai-Yang Lim has a degree in Library and Information Studies. He enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing children’s literature in his spare time.