The White Eyebrow Monk is one of my favorite characters in the Kill Bill movies. That character is based upon a character in Chinese movies and martial arts lore.
My friend over at Dao of Strategy sent me an article about Bak Mei Kung Fu. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.
The Forbidden Fist of Bak Mei Kungfuby Gene Ching
Grandmaster "Fishmonger" Qiang and his Son, Zhong Luo
The most notorious villain of kungfu is Bak Mei. Blamed for the greatest tragedy of kungfu history, legend tells us that Bak Mei was a Wu Dang priest who betrayed the southern Shaolin Temple to Manchu tyrants during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911.) The temple was destroyed, the library burned and the monks killed. Actually, Bak Mei is a nickname that means "white eyebrow." Due to the legendary Bak Mei's nefarious legacy, white eyebrows are now the hallmark of evildoers in countless kungfu movies.
Despite this stigma, Bak Mei kungfu master Zhong Luo remains passionate about his family's art. The son of Bak Mei Grandmaster Mai Yu Qiang, Luo comments on Bak Mei's infamy. "During the Qing, before the war started, all the Shaolin temples collected people from all the different kungfu circles, and created their own tournaments. Basically they created their own little world. So the government got intimidated by all these different martial artists who stuck together - getting bigger and bigger - hundreds of thousands - getting too big. The truth is that during the Qing dynasty, 90 % of the army, the bodyguards and those who worked for the government and the emperor, were all Bak Mei style.
They don't realize that the reason those guys got hired was because they could really fight."
"Unfortunately, a lot of people think Bak Mei is a traitor because they killed all the monks and burned all the temples - thousands dead. After that, the Bak Mei style disappeared for almost a whole century. The people were saying 'Anybody who does Bak Mei, deserves to die.' Their houses got burned down, their wives got killed, their children disappeared. People got revenge almost the whole century." Bak Mei practitioners who fought to preserve their kungfu faced bitter hardships until very recently.<
The Fighting Fishmonger
Today, Bak Mei Grandmaster Mai Yu Qiang is one of the most respected kungfu names in China. But like Bak Mei, Mai Yu Qiang is only a nickname. His real name is Luo Rong Qiang, born in 1938 in Futshan (Buddha Mountain,) Canton. His father, a Hung Gar master, passed away when he was only six, so Grandmaster Luo studied Hung Gar, Praying Mantis and other assorted styles with his eight uncles, each a kungfu master in his own right. In 1957, he began studying Long Ying (dragon form) the first of the two styles that he would eventually master, under Master Jun Gen. Then in 1960, he began his tutelage in Bak Mei, which his great grandfather had brought into his family fighting arts, under Master Lao Siu Leung.
During that time, the Luos were very poor like most of China. Grandmaster Luo cut fish at the wholesale market while his wife cooked for the employees of a big factory. Earning only a few dollars a month made raising two sons and a daughter very difficult, especially since Zhong Luo's brother was a sickly child and required expensive treatments. So in order to make ends meet, Luo resorted to illegal no-holds-barred fights.
Luo organized underground open challenge matches at the market. What's more, he jumped into the ring whenever he could. His son, Zhong Luo, remembers the stories. "If you win, all those wholesale store owners gave a 100 lbs. of rice or a couple chickens or a couple fish, whatever. Those markets were huge, bigger then three Home Depots! All these people from different cities came to pick up fish or rice wholesale, driving little 3-wheel bicycles to market, then to their shops to sell. Every morning, my dad went to market to pick up fish to sell. On and off, he was fighting there about 2 years - sometimes every weekend, sometimes every month, depending on how much injury he got. After that he would teach people to go fight too, and he had a lot of students."
It was there that Grandmaster Luo earned his nickname Mai Yu Qiang (Fishmonger Qiang.) Selling fish for over half a century, he even won competitions for cutting fish. He is so skilled with a filet knife that he can gut a fish in six seconds flat. His son still keeps some of his father's fish cutting awards. Even today, the Chinese press always calls him Mai Yu Qiang, seldom his real name.
But reputation can be double-edged. During the Cultural Revolution of the 60's, the kungfu world suffered as did all of China. By 1972, the Red Guard caught Grandmaster Luo and threw him in prison for disturbing the peace, teaching people how to fight, and having connections to organized crime through his fight organizing. Many of his friends and fellow masters committed suicide in jail.
Master Luo remembers being a little boy and visiting his father in prison in 1973. But incarceration did not break their spirit. In fact, Grandmaster Luo covertly taught his fellow prisoners so that when he was released in 1974, he had even more students - ex-cons - to help him teach.
In 1976, the next political event to influence today's kungfu, China's Open Door Policy, occurred. All across the nation, public kungfu schools opened their doors. Grandmaster Luo's school began in his hometown in Canton, the nucleus of southern kungfu. It was a traditional kungfu school with no fees, just lucky red envelopes for the master during the holidays and the commitment to help out when necessary. Eventually, the school became well equipped with 30 sandbags for striking and dozens of rock buckets for finger jabbing training. Over 100 students were attending each night. By 1980, it was the biggest school in Futshan.
Recently, Grandmaster Luo received two of the highest honors for a kungfu master. During the celebrations for 50th anniversary of China last year, he was invited to Beijing to organize a phenomenal 80 lion performance. Luo is one of China's top martial drummers with over 20 years experience. His drum was amplified to lead all 80 lions in one of the grandest lion dance performances ever held. Furthermore, in Hong Kong, he was invited to play at the opening ceremony for the new airport and the longest bridge in the world. On that historic occasion, there were no lions, just the grandmaster and his drum.