Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Master Fook Yueng

May He Rest In Peace.

The martial arts community has lost another great master with the passing of Master Fook Yueng (1919-2012). I was never a formal student of his, but I did get to train with him a little here and there at the occasional class, picnic, or demonstration. I'm truly grateful for every contact I had with “Mr. Yueng”, as we always called him. He was extremely skilled in a number of arts including Chinese Opera, Mantis Style, all manner of Kung-fu applications. He was an old school man who came from an era where full on challenges were a regular part of life. And yet he was also deeply dedicated to the healing and health aspects of the arts and taught them with as much relish as any self-defense technique, if not more. His influence in the Northwest was huge, having taught people as diverse as Bruce Lee, Andy Dale, Steve Smith, Harvey Kurland, and David Harris among many, many others. Since Andy was my teacher, I was lucky enough to meet and touch hands with him a few times. I found his Chi Kung emphasis on suspending the joints to be especially helpful in my own development as a student and teacher.

He 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. My joke about him was that he was the only one I knew who could make a coffee mug tap out. He didn’t speak much English but he had a direct and simple way of getting his points across.

One time that really stuck with me...There was no one around who could translate for him, so we were just doing gentle give and take pushing hands...he looked at me and exaggerated the playful circling waist action that we were doing and said "Play. Play. Play." with each move and counter...and then he said "Real." and by the time the "L" sound in "real" had reached my ears, one of his hands had stiffened palm up and materialized a fraction of an inch from my throat. He was smiling, of course, and then repeated the demonstration, saying "Play. Play." as we circled and stuck and evaded and listened and then "Real" as he lightning fast moved into some gnarly kill strike. I’ll never forget the combination of martial effectiveness and pure joy and generosity that exuded from him. He was not into ego, there was no arrogance or strut about him. He was about art he was living.

I met him fairly late in his life, when he already sort of “retired”. To me, he was not a "fountain of inspiration", he was more like "Old Faithful", with huge amounts of information coming forth regularly but not continuously. My practice partner Joel Hartshorne and I figured out that the best way to get him to come over and show us the good stuff was to visibly struggle with some technique or other until he inevitably came over to show us how to do it better, usually with a few variations which were what we were hoping for.

(Anyone who knows their art and sincerely wants to teach it can learn to transmit the basics. But the real innovators and artists can also show you their personal variations on those basics which, in my opinion, is where their art really lives.)

I remember one time when Joel and I were pretending...uh...I mean struggling, with this one kick-blocking technique. Mr. Yeung came over and showed his this really nice move that I still remember where you block the kick by lifting your knee and swinging it into the thigh of the kicker, so much so that you're practically 90 degrees from the kicking leg. From this sideways position, the leg you just blocked with is totally coiled for a side kick to the knee of the kicking guy's standing leg. Sweet. I never had any idea then how old he was but his spirit definitely had that "ageless" quality, which I think came from living a creative life, one I hope to emulate.

I've been thinking a lot about Master Yueng lately and wondering about his health...I understand that his exit was painless, for which I am grateful. He gave so much in his lifetime, if anyone deserved a graceful passing, it was Mr. Yeung. He was a treasure that will never be replaced. Thank goodness he was so generous with his wealth of knowledge and left so many people influenced and affected by his message and skill. 

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