This article was originally published in Blitz Martial Arts Magazine, Vol.30, No. 6, Aug-Sept 2016

Preparation for the story on the Sue family made for a lot of reading. I googled old newspaper articles on the subject of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, as well as the place of the Sue family within it.

I also read Malcolm Sue’s spectacular film treatment, ‘Humility.’ He contributes all kinds of extra information, assembling it into an equation that adds up to his own decency.

Malcolm’s voice is fixed in cyberspace, unassailable as a star. It can’t be discussed or disputed because there is no way to contact him to ask questions about the things I’d read – or been told – in the course of research and interviews. I had reams of them and there were many I wasn’t sure how to ask.

I had reams of them and there were many I wasn’t sure how to ask.

When I called Malcolm’s son, Gawain, he answered the phone.

“I haven’t read it,” says Gawain of the film treatment. “I’m sorry he actually feels that way. The two of us agreed we weren’t going to see each other, and the relationship has come to an end.”

No matter whom you ask, the major events in all versions of the story are the same.

“The Fitzgerald Inquiry started when I was twenty, turning twenty-one,” says Gawain. “It went on for about three years. Dad was already looking at financial ruin, but wasn’t forthcoming with transparency.

“He was ready to leave Australia to find other means of making a living. He’d already started a travel agency in Hong Kong. He didn’t know all the accusations; a lot of it was just hearsay. He wasn’t coming back in a hurry.”

Gawain, however, was forced to face the music.

“I got questioned; it ruined me financially. I had to hire a QC for one showing [and] the bill was about $20,000. I had to work a long time to pull myself out of the hole and achieve financial stability. I’d only ever taught kung fu, and I didn’t want to do anything else.

“A lot of mud was flung around. Some things were true, some weren’t, but most of it stuck. The school was three hundred members-strong before the Fitzgerald Inquiry. After it came out in the paper that dad was a gangster, within a week, membership went down to sixty.”

The accusations decimated the membership of the Malcolm Sue Kung Fu Academy.

“We charged monthly fees – this was in the mid-eighties – and membership suddenly took a dive. My focus was to make ends meet. I was servicing his debts. If I can’t make mortgages and car payments, we’re going to go bust.”

12650807_10153621568337599_4294977826870850850_n.jpg

According to Gawain, Malcolm’s reputation as a gangster was hearsay, sensationalised by journalists like Phil Dickie. That reputation was further enhanced by Malcolm himself.

“I can only speak from personal experience, but dad liked to be seen as an underworld figure,” says Gawain. “He enjoyed it. I’d never seen any of the stuff alleged.

“I did take gifts to cops, the police commissioner and others, but it was no different to anyone giving them a bottle of wine for Christmas, which is what I did.

“As far as brown paper bags of money are concerned, I did go to the counter of the police station in Brisbane and hand things to the duty sergeant, but that was no different to a sandwich in a brown paper bag. He could have opened it and looked at it…”

Gawain dismisses the majority of the stories as gossip.

“People are trying to sensationalise their involvement with dad. I knew Terry Richardson as ‘Uncle Terry,’ because he was Dad’s Chinese medicine patient. They knew each other for many years before he became the police commissioner. It’s that simple.”

While Malcolm was investigating business opportunities in Hong Kong, Gawain was looking to bail out the sinking family ship at home in Australia.

“My focus was quite different. I was worried about servicing debts, not about drawing stats on student membership. I was twenty years old. I didn’t acquire the loans; I inherited them.

“Dad had a different take on things. He comes back [from Hong Kong], and says, ‘Let’s go to Perth’. I was ambitious. [I thought] if I can make it work in Perth, I can make it work in any capital city.”

“Dad had a different take on things. He comes back [from Hong Kong], and says, ‘Let’s go to Perth’. I was ambitious. [I thought] if I can make it work in Perth, I can make it work in any capital city.”

Gawain packed up and left Queensland in 1989.

“I drove over with another instructor and three trainees in a VK Commodore packed to the roof to start a school. I checked out Perth for a week, went back to Brisbane to get things sorted and [the school opened in] 1989.

“Dad and his new wife arrived in Perth shortly after and very soon, we were celebrating Xmas.”

Gawain took an active role in developing the culture of the new school.

“I had a life-changing experience; I married and had a kid. Then, in 1998, my three-year-old son contracted leukaemia. I questioned my life; questioned what was important. How does an art integrate with a business without the business influencing the art?

“I discovered that my entire existence was a reflection of what was going on inside of me. Changes in [school] culture were insisted on. I started asking questions.”

12509312_10153584936192599_7711728265040363066_n.jpg

Ironically, Gawain’s son’s illness took him to the heart of that process.

“Kung fu was my thing. I did a lot of self-reflection and personal development work. Going to class, training and teaching were the only thing that kept me going when my son was ill.

“I used to cry myself to sleep on the couches in the parent’s waiting room at the Children’s Hospital.

“I would go back and forward to the academy; I was teaching about a hundred and ten hours of classes and private lessons a week. It was a really traumatic time. I kept asking, ‘Why is the innocent little boy suffering?”

Gawain’s questions became focused on the school he had inherited, actively transforming it into the school he created.

“There were a lot of things as [a young man] that I took as par for the course. When I grew up, I began to see things differently. There are a lot of things that from a kung fu perspective, I’m very proud of.

“Initially, dad had a lot of loyal supporters, and that’s how he grew the club. Originally, it was only open to Chinese. They were as prejudiced as the Australians were. That club was very aggressive. It was the survival of the fittest and the strongest.

“Once dad opened a new club in Wellington Street, West Brisbane, he opened to Caucasians. Twelve to eighteen months later, it moved to a bigger building and became an icon in Brisbane. Not without controversy.”

Gawain departs significantly from Malcolm’s scripted version of events when he discusses the development of the kung fu school under his aegis.

“My experience of it, when dad left Australia in 1985 and went back to China was that I stayed in control. When dad decided to come back in 1990, I’d been running the school in his name. That was his directive; the culture in a school comes from the head down.”

Part of improving the culture, to Gawain’s mind, was changing the name of the school, which was one of the main issues in the deterioration of his relationship with his father.

“The Southern Praying Mantis style really stopped in 1986. Ging Mo Kune was born from the time I coined the name, [which was] after dad left. We were no longer Tong Long. We had no relationship with them; we didn’t go back annually. We didn’t celebrate the calendar.

“We were just borrowing someone’s hard work and reputation and running a business from it. I told dad, ‘It has to stop; it’s not right. We are teaching our own style and people need to know that. It’s not that we’re better; we’re just different. We haven’t gone back to Hong Kong to maintain authenticity.”

Gawain’s questions were not met with kindly.

“I asked dad, ‘Why is it that when you turned sixty, not one of your students has contacted you or turned up to your birthday when I invited them? Surely, there’s got to be instructors out there that would honour you? It’s not [about] being wrong; it’s just a question.”

The process led to the eventual deterioration of the relationship.

“We decided not to talk to each other anymore. I don’t want to be damning or judgmental… Dad has his journey; he has his thing [but] from when my son got sick, dad couldn’t answer my questions.”

14650330_10154348847467599_3154074266358913989_n.jpg

The relationship of the Sue/Sui kung fu school to its origins has been most controversial in relation to the Shaolin Temple. Again, Gawain has a significantly different story to tell than the one purported by Malcolm.

“In 1986, we took our first group of students to the [Shaolin] temple for a visit. We did that for three years. Dad came back and we spent nine years just setting up and establishing ourselves.

“The monks did their world tour, the ‘Wheel of Life’ Shaolin warrior monk tour of the world. When they toured Perth, the monks were taken on a bus to King’s Park to do a photo shoot.

“They drove past the academy; we had a prominent position nearby. They recognized the logo, so two monks decided to come down to the school to say ‘hi’. They spoke Mandarin – we didn’t – so we got an interpreter.

“We put on a show for them that night and bought tickets to see their show. In the process, we floated the idea of a cultural exchange between our school and the temple with their chaperone, who was the deputy principal of the government school.”

Gawain swiftly clears up any confusion about who is who in the world of Shaolin.

“The only genuine school is the government Shaolin school. We succeeded in establishing a cultural exchange program with them. We would go there and the monks would come and learn Australian kung fu.

The cultural exchange was a successful venture for both the Ging Mo school and the Shaolin monks. That relationship endured for more than a decade.

“I taught the monks Ging Mo every year for fourteen years. They lined up as my students and I taught them as if they were beginners. Some of the monks are still in contact. We chat on email. They ask, ‘How are you? What are you doing? When are you coming back?”

No kung fu film worth its salt would miss out on the opportunity to dabble in the occult and Malcolm’s treatment doesn’t disappoint.

In fact, the demise of his relationship with his son Gawain is foreshadowed by a fortune-teller they run into during a night on the town in Hong Kong. According to ‘Humility’, the fortune-teller informs Malcolm that his companion will betray him.

Gawain’s retelling of the event is somewhat different.

“My recollection of the fortune-teller is that dad loved to trick and deceive people. His standard statement was that we were brothers. The clairvoyant said, ‘If I’m wrong, I’ll give [fortune telling] away.’ This was in the middle of a large shopping centre, like Myers.

“Dad asked if I’d like to give it a go. This guy felt hands and asked for a birth date and time and that was it. He felt the bones in my hand, felt dad’s hand, asked for birth dates and times. Dad doesn’t know his birth date. When I was born, dad was still gambling at Eagle Farm horse races late into the afternoon.

“The guy knows we’re not brothers, he said, ‘Because your destiny is that you have no relationship with your siblings or children. If he’s your brother, it’s impossible. Until you answer that question, we’re not going any further.’

The fortune-teller talked about the past. That’s normal. Then he said that, ‘Father will die alone, with no-one by his side.’

“That’s my recollection of the experience. What I think is that having knowledge – skill and ability – is quite empowering. If it was me, if I was in dad’s shoes, I’d see it as giving me the opportunity to change the future. He sees it as a way out, of not having to do anything.”

Gawain returns to the subject of his quest for self-knowledge, precipitated by the sickness of his son.

“I read lots of self-help books, went to seminars, and saw shrinks. I was asking the question, ‘Why do I see things this way?’ Dad answer to that is, ‘If I see things I don’t like, how do you expect me to keep going?’

My attitude is, ‘If there are things you don’t like, you can change it. Why don’t you take the opportunity?’

That said, Gawain seems to have resolved his relationship with Malcolm as the result of a chance meeting at the casino in Perth.

“Our school has done the Chinese New Year celebrations since 2000 in the Perth Casino. Dad’s a serious gambler; the Casino was a daily affair for him. For the last sixteen years, I wondered how it would be if I saw him.

“Whether he was there or not before, I don’t know; I was busy playing the drum. This year, I was going in to the bathroom as he was coming out. I went to shake his hand and wish him ‘Happy Chinese New Year’. ‘Don’t call me father,’ he said, and walked off.”

As is so often the way, a chance meeting at which few words are spoken proves to be pivotal to someone as introspective as Gawain. It brings into focus both his story and his kung fu.

“I believe we’re not bad people. I know dad has written things that I’m hearing aren’t very kind about me and others. Whether we are or aren’t practising martial arts, we look inwards and reflect upon ourselves.

“It’s not always about getting things right. It’s about taking responsibility and being kind to and loving to ourselves. Ultimately, martial arts [are] about peaceful resolution. We learn to be present to ourselves.

“When our intuition is clear, we know danger is lurking, and we remove ourselves from the danger. We teach ourselves to resolve violence from a peaceful stance. The instinctive response when our well-being is threatened is to fight. This is why kung fu is a life-long endeavour.”

15181708_10154429281142599_8288422904488073057_n.jpg