For the last few months I have had the privilege of meeting many different students that study Kung Fu.
In all of my encounters I had discussed our similar passion and excitement for Martial Arts and how it had been affecting our lives for the better but I have to confess I knew next to nothing about Kung Fu. I had read various articles on Kung Fu that had me at times scratching my head. I couldn’t separate fact from fiction.
At a Martial Arts History Museum fundraiser I had the opportunity to meet not a student but a Founder of a style of Kung Fu, Douglas Wong. After lightly discussing his martial arts resume with me, I concluded this man definitely knew Kung Fu. But it wouldn’t be until a few weeks later that I sat down with his wife Carrie Ogawa-Wong at Dragonfest and got my Kung Fu facts straight.
Carrie Wong (left) Kenpo Girl (Center) Douglas Wong (right)
Sifu Carrie Ogawa-Wong was just the informative woman to set me straight. She is not just a wife, mother and martial artist but is also a 2005 inductee of the Martial Arts History Museum Hall of Fame, an author and a martial arts competitor. In 1980 she was competing nationally and was ranked number 2 female competitor in hand and weapon katas by the Star Rating System. She made a return from retirement in 1991 at the Tat Mau Wong’s International Kung-Fu Championship in San Francisco.
She has studied...
Sifu Carrie teaches Children's Kung Fu, Adult Kung Fu, Tai Chi Chuan, and private classes.
Some of her students include Kevin Sorbo “Hercules, the Legendary Journey”,
Lucy Lawless “Xena: Warrior Princess”
and Ryan Gosling “Young Hercules”
Carrie training with Lucy Lawless
When I sat down to talk to Carrie, I told her I had been so confused on all the different styles of Kung Fu. Carrie laughed,
“The easiest way I explain it is with cars. Kung Fu is a car and each style is a model. The styles are all different but in the end they are all Kung Fu.”
Yes apparently all cats know Kung Fu.
I confessed to her I didn’t know much about Kung Fu and what I probably did know was misconceptions. I was familiar with the fact that Kung Fu is not a belt system. I asked if societies fascination with belt systems had affected them?
Carrie explained, “When we weren’t doing regular testing none of the students ever asked about it but if you are an instructor that focuses on it then that’s what they (students) will focus on. The American society has a need for promotion, a need to show their progress.
“We had our curriculum situated were we were able to incorporate sashes very easily. I’ve found it helps the kids but... I tell my students I can take away a sash but not what you learn. What you learn becomes you and it can’t be taken away.”
There are so many different systems in Martial Arts, I asked what Kung Fu provided her that no other system did?...
She clarified, “With our style we try to stress the spiritual and physical training. I took karate first and when I took karate no one talked about breathing or inner energy. No one trained your chi.”
This was something I had read about, that Kung Fu focused on a spiritual energy. The definition of chi in Chinese refers to “air” or “breathing”. These are two different things but both are essential for a martial artists to establish an “energy,” which we transfer into power.
I frowned, the image of Kung Fu and power in my mind were conflicting ideas....
Carrie was quick to disprove this misconception, “I try to convey that the softness associated with Kung Fu is a misconception. I was the only female in the fighting class of 20 men. We had other students from other Kung Fu schools wanting to fight, so they would come and fight with us—full contact.”
After further discussing the topic, I was reminded that 10x World Champion Kick Boxer, Don Wilson got his start in Kung Fu. Doug has trained previous champions such as William Henderson and Alonzo “Lumpy” Young.
We could go on and on about the misconceptions of Kung Fu.
Perhaps some of it comes from the publicity Kung Fu receives from Martial Arts Films. Perhaps some just want to judge a book by its cover? Either way Kung Fu is not the only system or style riddled with misconceptions and delusions.
It leaves us in a quandary on what to do and what to say when confronted with these misunderstandings?
We have dedicated large amounts of time in our lives to study and as Carrie stated, that knowledge becomes us over time. As that knowledge grows we in turn become the face and representative of that system we love so much. People are naturally going to be curious of our passion and the system we are studying. The first thing we can do is not get upset or continue to pass on false information.
Smile and remember you could be speaking to a future fellow scholar.
I attended my first ever Martial Arts convention called Dragonfest.
Dragonfest is an annual fundraiser for the Martial Arts History Museum. The convention hosts a variety of booths. For $25 guests can meet local instructors to discuss their systems and styles, shop various items ranging from Japanese style art to knives and even Gi’s and of course meet various celebrities.
When I first arrived it was a bit of a culture shock. The mixture of the variety of booths, the Taiko drums and lion dancers were an adrenaline rush and slightly overwhelming. There was a stage available for demonstrations, performances and a live auction. There was a large diversity of systems, some I hadn’t even thought about seeing at a Martial Arts convention such as the United States Sumo Federation and Michelle Manu a Hawaiian Weaponry specialist. It was while I was first walking around that I met Robin Hart.
Robin Hart is the Owner of Muay Thai School USA and is the only female professional promoter in the USA that has brought some of the best Muay Thai fighters from around the world to the USA. Robin found out about Dragonfest after her and her Summer Junior Muay Thai Camp students visited the Martial Arts History Museum. She told me, “The networking here is amazing. It’s awesome to be a part of the Martial Arts Community.”
And what a community it is ranging from Muay Thai, Kenpo to Kung Fu and even Sumo. Robin reassured,
“Even though there’s not a traditional belt system (in Muay Thai) we still have advancements like any other system. When people are deeply involved with Martial Arts they have a deep respect for each other regardless of the system.”
As I walked and talked I found that I could have a thorough conversation with anyone about Martial Arts. I sat down and spoke with Carrie Ogawa-Wong, 2005 inductee into the Martial Arts History Museum Hall of Fame, White Lotus Kung Fu Master and instructor at the White Lotus Kung Fu Studio. Her and her husband Doug Wong (Founder of White Lotus Kung Fu and Author) were selling his books, t-shirts and handing out information on their Dojo.
Carrie has attended every Dragonfest, minus the very first one. As a veteran to the convention she said, “It’s great that once a year we get to see our olds friends in the different systems that we have in a way grown up with.”
“Anyone can attend, there’s a little bit of everything in the Martial Arts culture here. People can be so limited on the culture of Marital Arts so it’s good to attend.”
I ran into fellow Kenpoists Marissa and Minh Mach at Ed Parker Jr.’s booth and asked them what they thought about their first visit to Dragonfest?
Marissa had thought it would be smaller, “I didn’t expect it to be this big and with all the notable Martial Artists here. It’s awesome and we appreciate the varieties (systems/styles).”
There were many notable Martial Artists present for the event; from Ed Parker Jr., Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock. One of the celebrities I had the opportunity to speak with is Al Leong, actor from Die Hard and Big Trouble in Little China Town. He had attended last year as well and told me, “This is a better location, it keeps getting bigger. This brings a lot of different people together and different styles together.”
Yet these meetings are not just limited to a photo op and autographs. I spoke with Mr. Leong about his book “The Eight Lives of Al “Ka-Bong” Leong,” which tells the story in vivid detail of his career in film and stunt work. At each celebrity booth, guests can purchase memorabilia, have the celebrity sign and then discuss and talk with them and this is all possible because everyone here is approachable.
Towards the end of the day I was able to meet up with the one and only Cynthia Rothrock. Cynthia is a Martial Arts Film actress that is heavily involved with the Martial Arts History museum. She has attended every Dragonfest.
“The Martial Arts History Museum is sponsoring this where you can meet actors and other Martial Artists, there’s entertainment and knowledge for everyone. Everyone here is so friendly and it gets bigger and bigger each year.”
Cynthia explained that anyone can enjoy Dragonfest. She studies 5 different forms of Martial Arts: 3 Chinese systems and 2 Korean systems. She says anyone interested in starting Martial Arts could attend and see the various demonstrations and speak to the different practitioners to determine what system is best for them.
The truth is I was slightly skeptical about attending Dragonfest.
I had envisioned a group of mainstream pretend Martial Artists running around in some costume and swinging fake Samurai swords at each other…
It wasn’t that way at all. Everyone had pride in their system and style and where excited to be at an event where they could discuss their passion for the art. The Martial Arts History Museum might have hosted the event, but it is the passion we all share for the study and art of Martial Arts that brought us there and kept us captivated.
Though this event may be overwhelming for some, I would greatly encourage anyone to attend. This event was an eye opener to the idea of having support not just in your dojo and your own system but to reach out to other various systems.
The physical training may vary but the spiritual journey is all the same.
Jesalyn Mae Harper
Hello my name is Jesalyn. I'm a divorced single mom and a karate addict...