Sifu Tom would have been proud.
On Nov. 12, the Ojai Kung Fu club competed in the Golden Dragon Tournament at Arcadia High School and took home more than two dozen medals.
The club’s Sifu, which means “teacher,” was there in spirit only, however.
“He was so looking forward to the tournament, being there for his students,” said Ojai mom Priya, whose 6-year-old son, Kailash, has ambitions of becoming a Ninja when he grows up.
But Sifu Tom Farrar, who for 14 years taught Kung Fu at the Ojai Recreation Department, passed away the day before the tournament at the age of 63.
Kailash won two medals, including a gold in sparring. “We really felt like Sifu Tom was with us,” Priya said.
The Ojai native and Chinese martial arts master is being remembered for his empathy, his spirit and his way of teaching children.
“He was very strict, and he required discipline from his students, but he had such a soft spot for the youngest students. He saw my son’s focus and he wanted him to do well,” said Priya.
“Tom always had a special place in his heart for kids,” said Sifu Darrell Gooden, who first met Farrar in 1976 and trained him in the martial arts. “It was a particular strength of his. He would take kids as young as 5, which is unusual.”
Since 2008, Sifu Tom and Sifu Darrell taught Kung Fu together, training kids from all walks of life, including at-risk, handicapped and autistic children.
Tom carried on teaching despite constant physical challenges, including dozens of major operations for a series of life-threatening illnesses.
“He didn’t whine about it. He was there until the bitter end with all these kids,” said Ron Husted of Ojai, whose son, Brett, had been training with Sifu Tom for nearly two years.
“He had an indomitable spirit,” said Priya, adding Farrar and her son shared a special bond. “It was a terrible loss. I was hoping that he would know Sifu Tom for many years to come.”
For Kailash, Tom was a figure who commanded and inspired respect. “It’s very rare these days that you find a role model for your children that is an exemplar in the areas of hard work, discipline, focus and concentration,” Priya said.
Competing at the Golden Dragon was bittersweet for Sifu Tom’s students and their parents, according to Priya. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce presented a plaque for Tom, and the 700 to 800 people at the tournament observed a moment of silence. “We were in tears on the way back, just looking at the medals,” she said.
The Ojai Kung Fu club will continue in Sifu Tom’s absence, according to Gooden. “There’s a big hole with him not being there, but all of us collectively, together, we’re going to go forward,” he said, though some kids have said they just can’t come to class right now without Tom being there.
“A big challenge for us is to keep that excellence intact. But he and I have done this for over 40 years and if anybody can mimic him it would probably be me,” Gooden said. “You know you’re a good, solid asset to a community when what you’ve established transcends your presence.”
Sifu Tom will be remembered for his generosity of spirit and caring, and for a personality that was forceful, but at the same time positive and encouraging, Priya said. “As gruff as his personality could be, sometimes harsh and unforgiving, he was such a man of integrity. You could tell he said what he meant and meant what he said, but the tenderness came out toward his students.”
Because of his teacher, Kailash tried his hardest at the tournament, according to Priya. “When he won those medals he said, ‘These are for Sifu Tom.’”
A public memorial service for Sifu Tom Farrar is set for Saturday, Dec. 17, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, followed by a celebration of life at the Ojai Recreation Department on Park Road, said Gooden.