In 2010, following the demolition of the building at the Colts oval which used to house the school, training went into recess for a year as they looked for alternative venues. “It was hard when they tore down the place but there was nothing we could do. The big challenge was to find a new training place and to get our students back,” Ngandang recalled.
With no place to go, the school was in danger of closing for good. “For a moment, I was free with no responsibilities and enjoyed my ‘break’ but some of my seniors kept pushing me and eventually I got back into it. I saw that my work was not done, that if I stopped, the art would die out so I had to continue until I have prepared something for the new generation to carry on,” Ngandang said.
The students’ numbers have since been unsteady but for those who stuck through, it was training as usual. One of Ngandang’s senior students who has been training under him since 2005 is Andrew Molen, who has gone on to represent PNG in international events.
“Sifu (Ngandang) is very passionate about Shaolin Kung Fu and has a lot to teach his students. I’m one of the lucky ones to be taught by him because he learned it straight from the Chinese masters, so what we’re learning is genuine and solid Chinese Kung Fu,” Molen said.
“I would not be where I am now if it were not for Kung Fu. Through this art, I’ve participated in various martial arts tournaments here and overseas and gained recognition, respect and friendship from students of other styles while also learning many new things,” he said.
Molen’s most recent achievement is representing PNG in the sport of Karate, at the Oceania Championships in Fiji in 2014 and again at the Pacific Games in Port Moresby in 2015. He has also represented the country in Kickboxing and has competed and trained regionally and domestically in boxing, full contact Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo and Muay Thai.
Ngandang is pleased with Molen’s achievements and is glad to have him still turn up to train or visit him. “Despite his achievements, he is still humble and respectful to his elders and fellow students, that is a good example of a martial arts student,” he said. “Many of my other students have gone to take up boxing and kickboxing or play other sports but they never return.”
The Sifu said he is getting older and soon he will retire but he does not want Kung Fu to stop when he does. “I am old and I want the young generation to take over from me before I go because I don’t want to see Kung Fu die out in PNG,” Ngandang said.
He fears that there will be no one left to carry on his Kung Fu legacy when he has performed his taolu (form) for the last time. Ngandang’s hope now lies in his last remaining senior student, Molen, to promote the art and enrol new students to continue the tradition.
“It’s a big responsibility and something that we all will work hard for. I too would like to see Kung Fu grow and be more widely known and practiced in PNG like the other martial arts,” Molen said.
“Sifu always tells us that Kung Fu is a foreign culture and we are privileged to learn it. That is why he doesn’t want it to be lost because it won’t be easy to bring it back,” he said.
Another senior student who has retired from practice but still assists in other roles, is Helen McKenzie. A former athlete, McKenzie has been Ngandang’s student since the early 90’s and has been through more challenges with the school than any other student.
“Steven (Ngandang) is like a brother to me, though we’re almost the same age, during class he treats me like all his students and I respect him as our master. He has been through a lot of hardships to keep the school alive but his commitment and discipline is what’s keeping us going,” she said.
Ngandang said McKenzie is his oldest and longest student and is also like a mother figure to the younger ones. “She provides guidance and inspiration for the others especially, the girls and the young students. But she is as old as I am and has other personal commitments too and soon it will be our turn to sit down and watch the young ones train, so it is really up to us to get new students and promote the art far and wide,” he said.