A Gathering Indeed

kung fu gatheringFriday, we drove south, over 350 miles to Monterey Park, in Los Angeles, in answer to Sifu Don Hamby’s invitation to attend his 3rd Annual Kung Fu Gathering of the Masters. Despite expectations based on decades of tournaments and events, we could not have anticipated what we encountered once the drumming started.

Sifus Don Hamby and Fenton Fong (Fu Jow Pai)

Sifu Hamby, widely known and recognized as a master teacher of the Hung Gar system,  created a powerful exhibition—more of an appreciation—showcasing a huge array of traditional performers with exceptional levels of skill.

It is difficult to decide which aspect to highlight first: the performers and their performances, or the spirit of these same practitioners. But let’s start with the styles on display: a solid—indeed, impressive—rostrum with a strong flavor of Southern Kung Fu including Hung Gar, Choy Lai Fut, Hakka style, Wing Chun and more. This was taken a step further with three Southern forms from legendary teacher Ark Yuey Wong, one of the first instructors ever to teach Kung Fu to non-Chinese. Each form had its own animal such as Tiger, Leopard and the extremely rare Elephant styles. (In over 50 years in martial arts I had till now seen only one photograph of an elephant practitioner. This performance was probably its first public exhibition.) The so-called internal styles were also represented: Taijiquan, Baguazhang, Liu He Ba Fa, and Piguazhang, along with Bajiquan and Pek War Tai Hsing.

The dynamic energy of the Spear (Dragon) and Saber (Tiger). Best not to stand in the middle.

Let’s talk weapons! I know that any blitheringly positive review—whether or not you use “amazing” or “awesome”— will naturally inspire a reaction of “come on now.” But in this case, we had width and breadth. Weapons included Hakka staff, Lau Gar Staff, Double Straight Swords, Double Southern Chain Whip, Double Sabers, Judge’s Needles, Spear vs. Double Daggers (!!), the comet and more…Yes, awesome!

It was an exhibition of surprises. I saw one woman rehearsing in a little side room while others were stomping and spinning on the main floor. I watched her run through a series of strange little finger twists and squeezes as though rehearsing a Dim Mak set. Then, just a few minutes later she took the floor, catching and keeping the audience with the weapon of the wiggly fingers—Bagua’s Judges Needles. Her intriguing practice created a beautiful performance.

Finally, the spirit of this unique gathering. Unlike tournaments and competitions, all that pre-floor angst was missing. In its place was a clearing in the forest devoted to mutual appreciation. I saw more sifus hugging and back-slapping and cheering each other on, than I have seen over decades in the arts. As good as many performers were, the overall feeling of this wonderful exhibition was support, promotion and preservation of all the traditional Chinese martial arts; not just Kung Fu’s aim: “Beat the enemy,” but also its true message: “Stop the fighting.” These two, with the inheritance of training, could balance both sides of the story.


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