Wandering through smoke, ashes, and corpses strewn about like dead flowers on a vast, muddy grave, a striking young yoga monk surveys mind-numbing devastation during the immediate aftermath of a brutal earthquake. Staggering realizations of life and death pound in his heart as he and fellow monks spend sleepless days and nights dragging crushed bodies, some living, some dead, from the crumbled mountain community. Gazing out at the vast canvas of destruction and suffering around him, he feels small and helpless.
As the monk lights the funeral pyres to the accompaniment of sacred mantra chants, his eyes sting from the billowing smoke filled with human ash. In this, one of the defining moments of his young life, he’s sustained only by the profound insights gained from his spiritual teachers that flood his mind ... “The material world is a place of suffering. The material body is temporary … Only the soul, the atma, is eternal ...”
The beginning of a movie? No … this is a glimpse into the real life of SIDDHA, who is accomplished in Eastern philosophy, yoga, and expert in the martial arts Tae Kwon Do and Wushu.
Siddha’s eclectic young life and colorful pursuits could be the basis of a film in itself. Siddha, the son and student of the world renowned Yoga teacher Zhang Hui Lan (Wai Lana), was born in a small village situated between Hong Kong City and the Chinese mainland. His Chinese mother and British father practiced yoga, meditation, and vegetarianism. In this culturally diverse atmosphere, Siddha grew up speaking English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. From the time he could walk, he exhibited a boundless energy that those around him found difficult to direct. Even as a small child he would slip off alone into the hills and mountains beyond his backyard, the mountainous terrain his personal playground from sunrise to dusk.
Street gangs and punks taunted and challenged him, but feeling a bitter disdain for fear or intimidation, Siddha would stand up to these characters either by defending himself physically or by startling his attackers by cursing in pure Chinese, “Dieu lei low mo!”
Siddha’s independent spirit persisted even after his family moved to Hong Kong City, only now a far more dangerous environment than rugged mountains beckoned. At the age of only 9 years, Siddha explored the tough urban streets of Hong Kong City, his light complexion attracting frequent trouble. Street gangs and punks taunted and challenged him, but feeling a bitter disdain for fear or intimidation, Siddha would stand up to these characters either by defending himself physically or by startling his attackers by cursing in pure Chinese, “Dieu lei low mo!” (“Your mothers are whores!”).
This latter approach sometimes won over his opponents, who were taken aback by a “white boy” who could spew such venom in their mother tongue. A lone wolf by nature, Siddha avoided joining any of the Hong Kong gangs, although he wasn’t as prudent at avoiding the altercations and knock-down/drag-outs that his color and attitude routinely attracted. Siddha’s instinct for self-preservation demanded that he develop a keen interest in martial arts. He initially gleaned whatever example he could from street fights and from the countless Kung Fu films he and his buddies would sneak into.
Siddha’s interest in Kung Fu turned serious after visiting an uncle who, well versed in martial arts himself, was on his way to Taiwan in order to study under Guo Zheng Xun, one of the world’s foremost Tae Kwon Do masters. Siddha begged to go with him, dreaming of formal training in the martial arts that consumed his interest. Not seeing how things could get any worse, his parents agreed.
Guo Zheng Xun left an indelible impression upon the young boy, who was determined to become expert at Tae Kwon Do. Unfortunately, Siddha’s undisciplined nature and tendency to gravitate toward street life ended up getting him in trouble, eventually forcing his departure from Taiwan back to Hong Kong.
Siddha’s undisciplined nature and tendency to gravitate toward street life ended up getting him in trouble.
Back home, Siddha’s staunch desire to continue honing his martial arts skills persisted, but there were no great Tae Kwon Do masters in Hong Kong. Frustrated and unhappy, Siddha sank deeper into a rowdy, aimless street life. His parents naturally grew concerned about the myriad of illicit threats to their avidly precocious son, including the lure of drugs, alcohol, and especially Hong Kong’s organized crime syndicates, Triads. Siddha’s parents were convinced that unless drastic measures were taken, it was just a matter of time before he got seriously injured or killed in a confrontation with the wrong people or was forced or attracted to become part of them. Clearly, a complete change of scene was essential for Siddha, including new friends and a strong dose of discipline. And it was patently obvious to all concerned that Siddha was fundamentally drawn to martial arts. They knew of just the place: a yoga ashram (monastery) for boys, isolated high in the mountains of the Philippines.
Neither servile nor the academic type, Siddha was hardly keen to undergo the spartan rigors of monastic life. That is, until he learned that the headmaster of the school and his brother were two of the best Tae Kwon Do coaches in the world—and that several hours of Tae Kwon Do training were built into the ashram’s daily curriculum. Siddha couldn’t leave soon enough.
Siddha immersed himself in the focused routine of the ashram—rising before dawn to take icy showers in a mountain waterfall, meditating, chanting, studying ancient yoga scriptures, and practicing yoga—and, of course, the endless hours of Tae Kwon Do. Siddha had finally found positive channels for his inexhaustible energy.
But a disciplined monk’s life wasn’t easy for Siddha, who had always been accustomed to doing what he wanted whenever he pleased. His rebellious nature, hot temper, and horseplay were eventually too much for his instructors. Although he was determined to become great at Tae Kwon Do, he was expelled after two years. He was finally allowed to return at the age of 14 after having cultivated a more mature attitude. This time, as his martial arts reached new heights, he began to see his combat training not as a way to defeat others in fights, nor merely as a way to achieve glory at the Olympics, which had been his goal. Rather, he began to comprehend the more spiritual nature of the physical power he wielded through martial arts. He realized that through self-control, he could achieve mastery over the physical power he possessed and redirect it toward a higher purpose.
Siddha immersed himself in the focused routine of the ashram—rising before dawn to take icy showers in a mountain waterfall, meditating, chanting, studying ancient yoga scriptures, and practicing yoga.
In 1990, the entire mountain region of the ashram was shaken to its core by a violent earthquake that destroyed entire villages and left thousands wounded or killed. The already remote area was cut off from the rest of the world for three months, all the small mountain roads having been destroyed. As Siddha worked with the other monks to lend all manner of aid to those suffering around them, a profound realization stirred him. For the first time, he was engaged in a truly worthwhile effort, a bigger and more important cause than his own personal happiness. Suddenly, the ancient philosophy of karma yoga that Siddha had studied by rote at his instructors’ insistence became a practical reality to him. He tasted for the first time that real value and worth lie in using one’s life talents and energies in helping others.
After months of laborious service, as life in the mountain community gradually returned to normal, Siddha began to ponder how he could continue to positively affect others, since the only thing he excelled at was martial arts. His spiritual mentor advised him, “There are many ways to serve—even through martial arts. Do a dramatic performance of the ancient spiritual epic Ramayan. There are lots of fight scenes, and villages around here will be entertained while being also spiritually enlightened by the message contained in it.”
Diving into the new project headfirst, Siddha’s natural leadership abilities helped him take command of and shape all elements of the traveling production, including the costumes and live music. As the tallest and best fighter among all the monk performers, Siddha played the lead role as well. Both young and old in the neighboring villages were delighted by the traditional tale performed in an innovative, exciting way. One day, someone videotaped the band of young monks during a lively performance. As soon as Siddha saw it, he realized the niche in life he wanted most was to produce and perform in entertaining action stories that communicated the philosophical and spiritual ideals he valued most. Clearly, he realized, the film medium would be the most effective tool to convey his stories to a worldwide audience.
His new ambition set, Siddha’s years at the ashram came to an end. He bid adieu to his fellow monks and spent several years traveling throughout China, Asia, America, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific, always improving and perfecting his dramatic and martial arts skills.
Also integral to Siddha’s growing creative process was the creation of original music for his productions, including all aspects of composing and scoring to performing instrumentals and vocals. By marrying Chinese, East Indian, and Western instruments with one another, Siddha, along with his musical team (also his stunt buddies), began evolving a powerful, inspiring, and original sound.
During his extensive travels, Siddha also took on one of the most difficult and demanding of all the martial arts, Wushu. Siddha’s desire to reach the highest level of Wushu brought him to and beyond various Wushu coaches until he met and became the student of 9-time Chinese national Wushu champion Liang Chang Xing. Attracted to Siddha’s cinematic goals and recognizing the young man’s extraordinary talent, Liang Chang Xing agreed to become Siddha’s full-time coach and fellow choreographer.
The ultimate perfectionist, under the direct tutelage of sifu Liang Chang Xing, Siddha tirelessly honed his Wushu and Tae Kwon Do skills since childhood, in doing so he has impressively mastered both martial arts, in which he has portrayed his skills in productions such as “Karma Kula,” where he is the lead action star. Siddha’s skills are a director’s dream, as he is able to perform his own martial arts stunts, while playing a leading character on any film. There are only a handful of people in the world who have achieved the heights that Siddha has in the disciplines of martial arts—and even fewer who can choreograph their fighting skills for cinema and present them in a powerful dramatic format.