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Fook Yueng - A forgotten Master of Bruce Lee

August 26 2015 at 4:32 AM
LJF  (Login LJF)

Response to Questionable BL Mantis Connection

The Master Fook Yueng Connection
Jesse Glover once said,“When Bruce came to the U.S. in 1959 he knew about sixty percent of the Wooden dummy, the first form and parts of the second and third form but his Wing Chun training didn’t end there. Fook Yueng, a friend of Bruce’s father, continued Bruce’s instruction in Wing Chun. Fook Yueng was a Chinese opera star from the time that he was ten. Each time that he joined a new opera he had to learn the Kung Fu style that Kung Fu master favored. Fook Yueng learned many styles and he taught parts of them to Bruce. One of the styles that he taught Bruce was “Red Junk Wing Chun.” The areas where Bruce excelled were sticking hands, closing, chasing and punching.”

Master Fook Yueng was an Opera Gung Fu brother with Bruce Lee’s father, Lee Hoi Chuen. The first thing Bruce did when he met Master Fook Yueng in Seattle was to ask to do Chi Sau. When he could not get through, he asked Master Fook Yeung to teach him. From 1959-1967 or so Bruce learnt different styles from Fook Yeung (more info in the book “Between Wing Chun and JKD” by Jesse Glover, the first student of Bruce Lee and founder of NCGF).

When Bruce left Hong Kong, he could not get through in Chi Sau on his teachers, Ip Man and Wong Shun-Leung. Bruce told Jesse that on the second time he returned to HK, he could finally hold his own and get through on his teacher but held back out of respect of course. This was a result of 1) Bruce’s own modification and talent and 2) due to the instruction that he have received from Master Fook Yeung. Unlike a lot of martial artists, Yeung Fook kept a low profile and has never publicised his relationship with Bruce.

Master Fook Yueng (1919 – 23rd April 2012)
According to Adam Chan (Pragmatic Martial Arts and a friend of Steve Smith whose teacher was Master Yueng), Master Fook Yueng (full name Yeung Gao-Fook), was born in 1919 in Canton (now called Guangdong), China. He was raised in the Red Boat Opera since the age of 7 years old and was in the opera house for 55 years, and on stage he played the Monkey King. Growing up in the Opera was hard times in the early 1900s, the children would train more than 8 hour a day and all Opera players had hard training like a modern day gymnast. Aside from acrobatics, acting, and singing of Chinese Opera training, the Red Junk Opera was historically an underground Martial Arts Society. The Han Tribe’s Rebellion Group call the “Red Flower Society” have tried to overthrow the Ching Dynasty Emperor for attacking Central China. This went on for 400 years, men from 100s of different Kung Fu Styles trained alongside each other. Some of the descendents of these assassination group became the Red Junk Opera. The Red Junk is also the accurate historical birth place for Wing Chun Gung Fu. In fact, Red Junk Wing Chun was originated from Fujian province’s Pak Ho Kune (White Crane Fist).

Aside from Wing Chun, the Red Junk Opera house was a place for many masters and styles, including Southern Mantis, Hung Gar, Wah Huen, Bak Mei, Choy Li Fut etc etc. In his long training in the Opera House, Master Yeung learnt 160 styles of Kung Fu. Aside from Kung Fu, he was a master of Tien Shan Chi Gung (Tien Shan translates to “Heaven Mountain” and is one of the 7 sacred mountains of China, along with Shaolin, Wu Dang, O-mei, Wah Mountain, Kun Lun and others). It is very rare to know a Master from Heaven Mountain (Tien Shan), they are hard to find even in mainland China.

In the early 1900s, it was a different time in mainland China. People lived or died by their Kung Fu skill. Challenges match was perfectly legal (including sabre matches) and whenever the Opera was challenged, it is said that Master Fook Yeung was the man who answer it and never lost. Most martial artist at that time made their living escorting money, being a body guard, teaching in a Kung Fu school, hired to protect a particular rural villages or work in the opera. It was right after the Opium War and Boxer Rebellion and the Ching Dynasty was on the verge of collapse. In some ways China was like the lawlessness of the Old West and it was full of bandits. Kung Fu men back then fought for real, they were like “hired guns” and death sometimes occurred. Master Fook Yeung, like O-Sensei and other masters of peace came from real combat life experience and not empty talk .

Master Fook Yueng Settled In U.S.
Like Lee Hoi Chuen, Master Fook Yueng was already a fairly popular Chinese Opera Star during the 1920's and 1930's until the WWII conflict began in 1936. Actually, Master Fook Yueng was sold to an Opera Troupe by his parents as a very young child. Master Fook Yueng was trained in a variety of Martial Arts including "Red Junk Wing Chun," “Praying Mantis,” “Tai Chi Chuan,” “Bak Gwa Palm,” “Monkey Style” and odds and ends of whatever was picked up along the way up and down the coast of China during that time period. Master Fook Yueng, because of his small stature and physical agility was famed for his role as the “Monkey King” in the Chinese Opera of the same name. His small frame size also remind people of Bruce’s Wing Chun Sifu – Ip Man.

After WWII, Master Fook Yueng immigrated to Seattle from Hong Kong. Due to the lengthy hours being a Chinese Gourmet Cook, it was impossible to teach each different style and keep things straight and practice the same. Due to necessity, Master Fook Yueng developed the style of Yueng Chuan (Yueng style boxing). This style combined several styles but the base was "Red Junk Wing Chun" and a Northern Praying Mantis system. He had single forms, weapons forms, some two persons forms and an unbelievable amount of "Drills"!

Master Fook Yueng once said although Bruce Lee did do and know forms in the beginning of his career, he just did not like them. Master Fook Yueng was not a big man, but very wiry, very strong and very powerful. He was very adept at nerve pressure techniques and always seemed to be practicing them on whatever he happened to be holding. There was a joke about him that he was the only one who could make a coffee mug tap out. He did not speak much English but he had a direct and simple way of getting his points across.

Working Together For KCTS Channel 9 TV Demos
In Jan 1961, after watching local programming on KCTS Channel 9 public TV, Bruce decided that he should contact them about possibly demonstrating Kung Fu on their station. He thought TV would be an excellent way to reach vast numbers of people and give him the exposure he needed, which could ultimately generate more students. His plan would be to demonstrating Sil Lum Tao Wing Chun form and then break it down into simplified self-defense techniques. Perhaps he would have his students perform some of the basic forms, and then he would follow up by demonstrating the specific techniques with each of them using variations that he had developed. Then he would add some Chi Sao sticking hand sensitivity drills to highlight the high-speed precision that one could achieve if one became skillful in Wing Chun. He would emphasise explaining to the viewers what was happening as the techniques were performed. Jesse Glover suggested he could even add a little spontaneous free-style sparring to show the audience just how effective the techniques are against even someone that’s skilled in the art of fighting.

The TV station management later informed that there was a Chinese man named Master Fook Yueng (Bruce had earlier learnt some Kung Fu forms from him) who had a similar idea that he taught a style known as Sil Lum. The program director suggested that, in the best interest of the viewing public and to insure that the air time was properly utilised without being redundant, it was advisable for Bruce to organise a demo show together with Master Fook Yueng. By the first week of February 1961, Bruce and Master Fook Yueng had worked out a plan to share the show for their proposed demonstrations. Bruce would present the Wing Chun style and Fook Yueng would present the Sil Lum style. Bruce also spent a lot of additional time rehearsing with Jesse Glover, Skip Ellsworth, Tak Miyabe, Jim Demile, Leroy Garcia and Taky Kimura on the various parts of their demonstrations. In the same week, Bruce got Madam Mei Wong, a seamstress, to sew some Chinese Jing Mo Kung Fu uniforms for them. On the third week of February, Bruce’s club entered the TV station and performed their demonstration for the studio crew who watched in amazement when Bruce exhibited his explosive speed and power, as he demonstrated his techniques with his students. Even Master Fook Yueng and his group were duly impressed with Bruce’s agility and impeccable timing.

The following week in March, the KCTS TV manager informed Bruce that the station wanted to do a short yet complete series of segments for public TV broadcast. All of the students were elated that their self-defense demonstrations was so well received by the station, and it was even more exciting when they saw themselves on TV for the first time. They met at the station on 3 separate occasions and filmed the entire series. The station even interviewed Bruce so that they could use portions as segues into and out of the various instructional programs. After 3 weeks from the initial airing of the self-defense demo, the response was very well received and Bruce became very busy at the recreation center enrolling new students and instructing them in a fundamental regimen of exercises and basic martial arts training.

Master Yueng’s Fook Yueng Chuan
Master Fook Yueng’s Kung Fu was beyond style. There is a flowing, embracing, leading, sensitive, direct, energetic quality about Fook Yeung Chuan that is beyond style. It would not matter if it was done with any styles movement – perhaps that’s why Master Fook Yeung said, “All same nothing.” It was the understanding of energy, what’s behind the movement that matter and perhaps that’s why Master Fook Yueng said, “Without Chi Gung, you cannot do the advanced Kung Fu.” This is why Bruce was able to execute his punches and kicks with very powerful force because he practice Chi Gung – an internal style of Chinese martial arts.

Master Fook Yueng was succeeded by Master Steve Smith (from Walla Walla, Washington) who teaches the Pearland of Academy of Martial Arts’ study group. He teaches the principles of Fook Yeung Chuan and its Basic Combat System. Training includes the implementation of these methods in the arts of “Bak Gwa Palm (8 Trigrams Palm),” “Hsing-Yi Chuan” and “Tai Chi Chuan”. Master Smith is the Chairman of the “International Fook Yueng Chuan Association,” an association dedicated to the study of the principles taught to Steve Smith by David Harris and Fook Yueng. Mr. Smith has traveled and studied extensively with Jesse Glover, Bruce Lee’s first Student and has been given permission to instruct in Jesse’s Methods.

Fook Yueng Chuan or Fook Yueng’s Boxing is a rich method of Martial Arts that is effective for overall health/fitness development and is exceptionally functional for self-defense. It is synthesised from over 160 martial art styles and Tien Shan Mountain Chi Kung by Master Fook Yueng. The bringing together of the styles was more a matter of that it fit together and after 70 years they become “all same”. Master Fook Yueng had several people that taught his methods. They are David Harris (Steve Smith’s Primary teacher of Yueng Quan) who was his number 1 adopted son, Andy Dale his number 2 adopted son, and Steve Smith his successor and inheritor.

A forgotten Master Remembered
Many knew that Bruce was a bus boy at Ruby Chow's in the late 50s but few knew that Master Fook Yeung was also employed as a Chinese Gourmet Cook in the 1960's through 1970's at Ruby Chow's Restaurant in Seattle. He had also worked in other Chinese Restaurants in the area. To Master Fook Yeung, cook was by profession and martial arts was his hobby and interest.

When Bruce died in 1973, Master Fook Yeung and Jesse Glover were among those present in Bruce’s Seattle burial ceremony that threw soil unto his coffin. Master Fook Yueng was utterly upset upon his student’s untimely death.

After Bruce and Brandon’s death, Jesse Glover once took the elderly Master Fook Yeung to a Bruce Lee convention held in Seattle. They sat together and Master Fook Yeung held his hand while he grieved the passing of Bruce Lee and Bruce’s son Brandon Lee. He said, “too soon, they died too soon.” He also said that Bruce Lee had done a lot more for Kung Fu in his few years on earth than had been done in the last 500 years. Master Fook Yueng was always a happy and joyous person. Those who have met him always commented that he was full of love and joy.

Master Fook Yeung passed away on 23 Apr 2012 (2 months later, his good friend and Bruce first student, Jesse Glover joined him in heaven). Unlike Master Gin Foon Mak who was a well-known martial artist in New York in the early days, Master Fook Yeung was a low profile and dedicated martial artist in Seattle. His valuable teachings and advices to young Bruce Lee would always be remembered by all BL fans. Indeeed, he is gone but yet not forgotten. R.I.P.

Master Fook Yeung & Bruce Lee photos:

Master Fook Yeung and Steve Smith video:

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  • Linda Lee Caldwell pays tribute to Bruce Lee’s mentor - Fook Yeung - LJF on Feb 27, 2016, 6:45 AM
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