Foster City: May 5, 2013
One day, Debbie and I decided to raid our collection of old Kung Fu Theater VHS tapes and convert them to digital so we could share on Youtube. One of these in particular, a demonstration of Yao Kung Moon style, has brought a surprising number of views. We even heard from Sifu David Louie, who was the guest and demonstrator on this particular KF Theater, who contacted Plum with a request for a minor change in the spelling of the style. His warmth and manners shone through his email and we decided to go up and visit him and his class. Sifu Louie cordially invited us to stay through the entire three-hour session at his residence in Foster City. During this time, I saw a fascinating cross-section of this relatively little-known style, with practitioners at different levels all training hard but, also, having a lot of fun.
Some of the youtube comments had mentioned Bak Mei (White Eyebrow style.) According to Sifu Louie, those who think of YKM as an offshoot of Bak Mei are right, but those who see it as a new creation with a very old history are also right.This topic came up when I noticed the “dragon body” shape of the horse stance. Sifu Louie said that was a correct observation, that—besides Bak Mei—Dragon Boxing was the other main branch contributing to YKM . Many of the forms, he said, were almost identical to their origin styles; some have been slightly modified, some are uniquely YKM. Basically the art is comprised of around 18 hand forms and 28 weapons including the bench, rake and others. Due to its wide range and depth, Sifu Louie considers YKM (the Way of Flexible Power) as a complete style containing sufficient information rather than just a method or individual approach.The movements of this ostensibly Short Arm system are quick, forceful yet rather elegant. The hand positions vary hugely with claws, kick hands, bamboo-cutting hands, palm strikes and more. Even the early forms demonstrate short, terse but complex footwork with very high cross stances where both feet are kept flat on the ground.
As we watched the group exploring the meaning of their new form segments (applications are shown almost immediately on learning) I noticed a lot of rolling bridgework. For instance, they start training with the classical punch-from-the-hip action but, within a very short time, develop a straight punch that pulls back only half way with a dropped elbow; perfectly blending offensive attacks with defensive actions. There are many double-hand checks and similar actions and, as Sifu Louie mentioned, “Bridges are not just from the fist to the elbow, there are long arm bridges, too.”
There is a great deal of variance in the hand formations, as you might expect, but every action is constructed to interlock with just about everything else. As the student progresses through forms, he or she might encounter a movement that seems similar to those previously learned but is linked in a new or different way with other familiar techniques. The hand forms and bridge-to-elbow controls have as many variations as roses, so variegated are they that YKM can never become boring. This is confirmed by Sifu Louie’s two coaches/senior students, both having many years in the art yet supplying lively training and unswerving guidance to the younger students.
Sifu Louie is a quiet, self-effacing and patient instructor; often joking and conversing with his students. This does not negate the fact that he is also completely dedicated, engaging his students to draw out their intent, concentration and determination. These attitudes perfectly complement the outward physical requirements of YKM: precision, variability and timing. He is persistent, requiring even the newest student to focus, “Here, look at my face. Don’t let your eyes wander. Act as though you already believe.”
Style aside, this was one of the times when I had the strongest feeling of being back in China. His entire group has the village family feeling where, in the space of the class, everyone interacted with everyone. Sifu Louie might be giving a lesson, then be seamlessly relieved by a senior student stepping in to help the beginner while Louie walks over to correct another student’s stick move. The newer students were not only encouraged to repeat their forms but to do so in unison, in the opposite direction from one another and, surprisingly, at diagonals to one another. Occasionally, as a young student performed, Sifu Louie would just walk beside him as if to accompany him through the form.
Another method had one of the instructors walking backward as the young student attacked with his form, while the teacher showed the target for each strike and what the body reaction would be.Students are also introduced to Fa Jin training early. The dynamics of torso control and leg coordination are specified even for beginners; students gaining power by integrating their posture and intent. Some techniques, of course, were easier, such as the opening double fists from an early set; some were of a kind that even an advanced player would have trouble perfecting. Everything was practiced with an open and almost jovial air of family participation.I only saw one weapon—the YKM stick—at this session, finding it impressive, especially due to the number of hand re-positions, tip exchanges and continual change from move to move. The skill was good, the intent focused and applications shown. As in the empty hand sets, the demand for precision seemed to heighten the interest in doing things correctly, especially under Sifu Louie’s watchful eye.
The buzzing of the different conversations, the sound of the shuffling feet, the sight of the bodies crackling with issued force, the light rain, the students lining up to synchronize their practice, the youngest student’s furrowed brow heavy with concentration as he repeated a cross-step with double palms: all brought back to me the underground halls, garage studios and training in the parks that I have seen and experienced myself over the years.
Before we left we talked a while, as instructors will do. Sifu Louie spoke of the transformation he saw in the students when they “got it,” and the look on their faces. He mentioned that the community of Kung Fu was essential and helped with a sense of belonging, much like team sports do. Sifu Louie sees the teacher as instrumental in this, modeling his students to create a feeling of unity and participation. But he also believes that a Sifu should be a fully-trained individual. In Yau Kung Moon, for instance, it is a position that takes years to attain. He talked about the Lion Dance as a great binding experience for the younger students, “who want to climb the Lion pole,” and he talked about having something to pass on that is worth passing on.
His is definitely a training to consider in an environment of gentle but absolute attention to the art of Yau Kung Moon.
More on Yau Kung Moon
Gallery: A session at the class