The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, July 13, 2015

Training with Sifu Yee

Below is an excerpt from an 11 part memoir of a student of a kung fu master and proprietor of a Chinese resturant. I found it fascinating reading. The whole series  may be read here.

Part 1
After 9 years of the night club business, in 1983 we purchased an apartment house on the beach in Fort Pierce, Florida. I went down to prepare the building for rentals on my own without my family. Knowing that I would be eating out a lot, I started to check out the local restaurants. I had wondered in to a small Chinese restaurant off the beaten path.

I always liked to try the small restaurants. From my experience in New York I had found that the small ones were the best or at least I thought so. This time would be no different. Little did I know that I would find much more then good food. After finishing my meal, I walked to the front of the restaurant to pay the bill and noticed a corkboard with various local notices and started to read it while waiting for the waitress to take my check. I noticed a small file card that read, "Kung Fu classes, inquire here." I was involved in the martial arts since the late 60's. I started in Korean Karate, moved on to various different styles of Gung Fu, Tai Chi, Hsingi, Pak Ka, wrestling, grappling, Jeet Kune Do seminars, and the like. When the waitress came I ask her who was teaching Kung Fu? She said the cook, who was also the owner and he was in the kitchen and I could go back and talk to him. At First I declined, but she insisted, so I went back.

There was this man standing over a wok cooking and smoking at the same time. My first thought was that he is a Kung Fu teacher? and is smoking? I told him that I was interested in his teaching and he wanted to know my experience which I proudly told him. Then I asked him what style he taught and he said, "Jook Lum." I read about it in a magazine, the article was about a Gin Foon Mark. I had seen him do a demo on TV and was not really impressed. Mr. Yee started talking about his system and the more he talked the more I got lost. After about a 15 minute conversation he said I could come watch them train. He said that they trained a few times a week and classes start at 10:00 PM in the alley by his restaurant. As I walked from the restaurant I thought maybe I would stop and take a peak and maybe not.

About a week and a half later I went back to the restaurant to eat and Mr. Yee noticed me sitting at a table. He came over to the table and ask me where I'd been. I told him that I was busy and would try to stop some night. He told me they where practicing that night and that I was welcome to stop in. At about 10:30 that evening I went to watch. I watched for about 45 minutes as his students drilled in the basics.

I was getting bored and was looking for and excuse to leave. They say that ignorance is bliss, I certainly found out this was true on that evening. I was judging this system on my understanding of the arts. I had studied many different arts. I had not seen any trained this way and did not understand. So naturally I thought it was not good for self-defense. I had came from a background of kick boxing, and a lot of sparring. As they went through their movements I tried desperately to use them in a fighting situation.

From being in the night club business all those years I always looked at the arts for practicality, something you could use to remove a trouble maker from the club, with the least amount of danger to oneself. The more I watched the more I got confused with the movement. I told Mr. Yee that I had to go because I had an early day tomorrow or something like that.

Mr. Yee told me to wait for a while and he moved out to the center of the alley. He started explaining the system and the powers. After watching a few minutes of his movement I decide to stay. His gung Fu was like nothing I'd had seen before. It was short, fast, with snappy movement, but yet soft and powerful. His movement was like that of a well oiled machine. There was a carport at the side of the alley and while Mr. Yee was talking he was working his way towards it. Hanging on one of the support poles was a small bag filled with sand that they used for training. Now if you ever hit a bag filled with sand that had been out in the rain for sometime you would appreciate how hard it can get.

Once when I was training in Korean arts I had made the mistake by filling an Army duffel bag with sand and kicking it with my bare feet. It was hanging in the back yard of my house. I decided that I would go outside and practice my kicking routine. The neighbors were sitting out in their yard, as I strutted by with my new Karate uniform on. I was proud that I was involved in Karate and thought this was a great opportunity to show off. It had been raining earlier in the week, and little did I know that after a few rains on that sand bag, it would get as hard as concrete. I positioned myself in front of the bag, made sure that everybody was watching threw a round house kick with the toes, (suppose to be the ball of the foot, I would find out later) and wham the bag didn't even dent, just my toes did.

Now some people have this talent to remember movement, some have this ability to make there movement look good. Some can really dazzle a crowd. But with me, the only god given talents that I have in the arts are that I was born with a strong jaw, and a high pain tolerance, and can usually use the art in a fighting situations. And in some situations it would seem that god just wanted me to suffer. So after one kick I half limped, half walked back passed the neighbors trying not to show the pain. I was really feeling the pain and mumbled something about I forgot that I had to do something else, and pretending not to notice the smiles on there faces.

Anyway, while still talking Mr. Yee began striking the bag from inches away. The support poles were vibrating and shaking. I remember it brought me to my feet. Now he had all my attention. His knuckle was leaving huge dents in the sand bag and he showed no emotion on pain as he struck it very hard. His elbows seemed to be part of his upper body. His hands and arms did not pull back, they just released from where they were. On the other side of the alley was a building with a solid raised panel door, while still explaining his art he positioned himself in front of it. From inches away he struck the door, again and again, this time with his fingers. The door was rattling, then his fingers broke the door.

Mr. Yee looked at me and said that you have to be able to strike with more then the fist or knuckles. I had spent years at doing finger push ups, hand and wrist strengthening exercises, and just hand conditioning in general, but never had I'd been able to accomplish this kind of strength. I had never seen that kind of short energy. I had always heard that it existed, but after visiting several men that claimed they could demonstrate it, I always left disappointed. After that he came over and sat down beside me and lit a cigarette and said, "Oh.. What the hell? We are crazy people, right? We mess with this Kung Fu when we could be making money!" Then he laughed.

I had trained under Paul Huber for years, while training with Paul we had studied many different styles together. Paul was strong and fast. Paul was very capable in many different forms of self-defense, but never had I seen anything like this. When I got back to my apartment, it was about 1:00 AM. I couldn't sleep so I gave Paul a call. Paul answered the phone and was not real happy to here from me at this time in the morning. I ask him if he knew much about Southern Mantis? He said he didn't know much more then me, but from what he had seen he was not very impressed.

I told him about my experience with Mr. Yee. Paul became very interested and we talked for about and hour. After that evening I started training with Mr. Yee, but I had to go home after a few months and prepare to move down. I assured Mr. Yee that when I moved down I would be definitely joining his class.


Bob Patterson said...

Great post! I loved the full story and imagery of a cigarette smoking KF master!

Rick Matz said...

Bob! How have you been?!