Kashu-do (歌手道): Why Kung Fu? The Marvelous Inspiration of Sifu Karl Romain

People sometimes ask me: “Why Kung Fu? What does a singer need with Kung Fu?” Kung Fu has been in my life in some way since I was about 7 or 8 years old in Haiti, when my cousin Gary and I went to our first Kung Fu movie together.  Like every boy of our generation, going to experience the newest Chinese martial arts flick was what we did on Saturday afternoons.  I imagine Sifu Karl Romain did the same thing around the same time, except he had already immigrated from Haiti to the United States by that point. 

Bruce Lee’s sudden death was the talk of my neighborhood, as much among the adults who had been practicing martial arts as it was among us kids, who had all kinds of theories about the mysterious nature of the great master’s passing.  Throughout my life I had hoped to study the martial arts, particularly Kung Fu.  In my youth, we could not afford it, and in college I did not know of a school in Princeton, nor would I have had time. Finally, when I was in graduate school in Ann Arbor, Michigan (USA) one of my house mates had been going to this Kung Fu dojo and thought I should join.  I jumped at the chance. Soon after, I got my first teaching job and then fifteen years passed in the blink of an eye. 

I was teaching a student near New York who one day told me: “It is remarkable that two of the most influential people in my life are Haitian men!”  I replied incredulously: “I did not know your husband was Haitian!” To which she replied that she was talking about her Kung Fu teacher. Long story short, she told Sifu about me, and me about him. His office called me, we met and that was the beginning of a very special relationship that permeates my life, both professional and personal.

It is fair to say that Sifu Karl Romain was the missing link in my development.  I had come to the most important crossroads of my life before I met him. I worked out the relationship with my ex-wife, the dedicated mother of my two children. After many years we realized that despite our divorce we had to work in support of each other in order to have the most positive impact on our children.  My studio in New York had been growing steadily and the European branch was developing nicely. I was on a steady path toward the reeducation of my voice from baritone to tenor and I had been working steadily on my personal health through healthier diet and Yoga. But when I began to work with Sifu and became a serious student at Romain’s Kung Fu Academy, it was like taking everything to high gear.

I came with certain principles, but Romain’s Kung Fu helped me to practice them in everything I do.  When I wake up in the morning and I am too tired to do my basic warm-ups, I hear the voice of a 12-year old in my class saying: “Repetition is the mother of all skill!”  Sounds like operatic singing much?  Well every axiom we learn in class (and there are many) are all pointedly relevant to the discipline of singing and indeed to any discipline.  The singing technique that I teach has to do with mental and spiritual development through arduous muscular training.  That is what the old masters did. See the movie: Le maitre de musique to see the similarities!

Sifu’s influence goes deeply into what I do. His purposeful way of developing his business without compromising his principles helped me to more consciously value the special product I offer as a teacher.  I became more deliberate, more confident and more trusting of my own skills.  Sifu’s teaching shows an idealogical understanding of all the principles he has mastered.  As a result I began to see the parallels in my own vocal principles.  It was important that I codified the elements of my techniques, so that the student can make better sense of the elements. I stopped belittling myself for the fact that I had to undergo a major Fach change from baritone to tenor late in my career and became certain that I would become a greater tenor than I ever was a baritone. I am seeing the fruits of that journey more and more.

Sifu’s school is a large family and my own students comprise an international family that may be a little more difficult to gather together. But I realized that technology can help with this, and so I have begun the process of connecting my large family through technological means and to make use of the skills of my students for the betterment of our studio.

I have not talked about the personal accomplishments of Sifu Romain who is a world champion martial artist, highly respected in his field and valued outside of it.  His frequent appearances on Dr. Oz is just one aspect of his far-reaching accomplishments.  He is a respected author on the subject of Kung Fu and his students include world reknown celebrities and sports figures.  Please visit his website to learn more!

Does an opera singer need Kung Fu? I say yes! More than ever! And if Sifu Romain is teaching it, then don’t think twice! Pick up the phone and make an appointment!

I am not just making an advertisement for my teacher. That would be belittling him! Besides, he does not need it.  The reason Sifu Romain is so important to me is that he has the elements that could help put the substance back into any discipline that has a long tradition.  We opera singers are part of a field that has lost its soul. Despite the many stories we all know, we forget the most essential thread that runs through the journeys of all the great luminaries that light our way. They all worked hard in an environment that expected excellence and that uplifts the spirit to achieve its highest aims. At Romain’s Kung Fu we do not complain and we do not whine.  We learn to push our bodies and our minds and spirits further than we imagined possible and then we rejoice in the achievement.  We do it in a safe and supportive environment. In our Kashu-do (歌手道 studios we aim for the same aspirations.  But with all humility, we are not yet at the level of Sifu Romain’s organization.  If I had my way, every student I teach would have a strong dose of Romain’s Kung Fu as part of their training.  The kind of deliberate, forthright, purposeful, goal and process oriented mindset that our field requires can be learned in no uncertain terms with Sifu Romain and his capable staff.

Jean-Ronald and Sifu Karl Romain after J-R graduated to Orange Sash.jpg

I have wished to feature this wonderful, great man here on the blog since I began working with him.  I am sure I do not fully do him justice, but I hope it is clear how much I value him in my life and how very proud I am to call him, Teacher!

© 02/18/2009

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