Appetite for life
Whether forming a martial arts school or releasing a cookbook, Kwoklyn Wan has always believed in sharing. Francesca Hool finds out why becoming a Freemason was the natural progression
Speaking with a soft Leicester twang, Kwoklyn Wan describes himself as ‘British-born Chinese’. A devoted father, martial arts expert, self-trained Asian cooking sensation and newly initiated Freemason, Kwoklyn has an infectious enthusiasm and is proud of his heritage.
Kwoklyn’s father moved to the UK from the little village of Sha Tau Kok, on the border between Hong Kong and mainland China, in 1962. ‘With the Chinese, everything revolves around food. It’s our culture. Birthday party, wedding or funeral, we sit together around the table and eat. My grandfather opened the first Chinese restaurant in Leicester and my dad followed suit with a Cantonese restaurant.’
By the age of four, Kwoklyn was clad in a white shirt and black bow tie, working front of house. ‘I was born for it,’ he says. Around the same time, his father enrolled him at a martial arts school, planting the seed for another of his lifelong passions. ‘Being half Chinese and a big guy, I got my fair share of name calling at school. Martial arts helped me through it. I had a laugh rather than take offence.’
In his 20s, Kwoklyn used savings earned working as a chef and founded a martial arts school in the heart of the Leicester community. He describes the early years as ‘hit and miss’, but his determination saw him through as he accumulated awards and accolades for his teaching.
Whether preparing Hakka-style slow-cooked meats or practising Filipino martial arts, Kwoklyn has an aptitude for sharing his skills. ‘The first time [you teach] you get the nerves, you shake, and often you start teaching one way and end up somewhere else, but that’s the beauty of it.’ For Kwoklyn, martial arts and the art of Chinese cooking demand the same values. ‘Learning to punch or kick takes years of study – you need patience and time to become a master. Cooking is no different.’
MIXING THINGS UP
When asked what motivated him to join the ranks of the Freemasons, Kwoklyn remarks truthfully: ‘I didn’t know a lot [about it], but I had friends who were members and despite not giving much away, they urged me to join. I did my own investigation, gleaning insight from masons, and applied online. There’s a lot of respect involved with Chinese culture and the martial arts that I grew up with. You learn from a young age to respect your elders; you treat people how you want to be treated. And with the Freemasons I felt that immediately.’
Reflecting on his initiation, Kwoklyn enjoyed the fact that all of his peers had already been through exactly the same process. ‘For that one night you are made to feel like the most important person in the world. There’s no hierarchy – everybody you meet wants you to succeed. That positivity is something special. You are surrounded by people who are your brothers. You get together, go through certain customs and traditions, look at charities and how you can help out, and then have a big meal.’
Since joining in April 2016, Kwoklyn says his mindset has already changed. ‘I’ve gained so much and I’ve barely scratched the surface. New aspects of Freemasonry are constantly revealing themselves. It feels like a whole new chapter of learning. Recently, I’ve put forward another initiate, because I am so passionate about how joining the masons has made me feel.’
Fellow Freemason and close friend George Elliot is Director of Ceremonies at Grey Friars Lodge. He offers guidance and support, stressing that masons can ring him at any time. ‘The beauty of the lodge is that we’ve got a wonderful mixture of people – young, old, all walks of life,’ he says.
'There’s a lot of respect involved with Chinese culture and the martial arts that I grew up with. You learn from a young age to respect your elders; you treat people how you want to be treated. And with the Freemasons I felt that immediately’ Kwoklyn Wan
THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS
Along with other senior members of the lodge, George likes to meet potential candidates in person. ‘We tread carefully, making sure each person is the right fit and that, ultimately, they will enjoy it. When I first spoke to Kwoklyn it was surreal, I’d never met anybody so keen at such an early stage of Freemasonry. It’s refreshing, there was no stopping him.’
It seems Kwoklyn’s bubbling personality is somewhat infectious. ‘He passes that persona on to people, it makes them see Freemasonry from his point of view,’ says George, adding that while the initiation process can be daunting, ‘Kwoklyn nailed it. He did his homework and everybody raised their game for him.’
With Grey Friars Lodge close to home, it’s a perfect fit for Kwoklyn, who is keen to give back to the community that raised him. He recently ran a cooking class at Leicester’s Dorothy Goodman School, which caters for pupils with a range of learning difficulties and aims to give them the skills to be self-sufficient. ‘I teach the same way I would my own daughters, by trying to give them a skill set. To pass something on. If I’m able to teach them how to cook rice or how to use a gas ring safely, they can take those things away with them forever.’
With his cooking career in full flow and a cookbook due for release, there’s no stopping Kwoklyn. ‘I wanted to share recipes that our ancestors and parents ate, and what we ate as children. I’m a practical learner and I love to participate, so what better way to bring the cookbook to life than by having pop-up-style cooking classes all over Leicestershire?’