“...it is our duty as martial artists to preserve one of the few remaining legacies of our time.”

'Searching for the Northern Star'
by Gus Cuervo Rubio III

Our story begins in war-torn China. After World War II, Communism began to infiltrate China's political climate in the 1940's. During this tragic time, which persisted well into the 1960's, many Chinese families of wealth, culture, and influence were forced to flee their country. The new government confiscated their properties, arrested family members and in many cases ordered mass executions. The more influential the family, the greater the persecution. Such was the consequence of playing a part in China's rich culture and history.

Millions of people were forced to flee. Some took refuge in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the rest scattered overseas to other parts of the world. Europe, Canada, North and South America became the new home for many of these people. For our purposes, we will refer to South America, Brazil to be exact. Very similar in terrain and weather to southern China, this lush and fertile land became the new home for many Chinese.

3 Grandmasters

One such man was grandmaster Chan Kwok Wai. Because of historic lineage, Chan Kwok Wai carried a tremendous responsibility on his shoulders. He was a disciple of grandmaster Yang Sheung Mo and inheritor of the precious lineage of Gu Yee Chang (famous iron palm master), who was one of the original Southbound Tigers from the North. As the saying goes, "If you learn, you must teach." Loyal to his country's lineage, he opened himself to teaching this great art of the first ten forms of shaolin often referred to as bak sim lum in Cantonese.

By the early 1970s Bruce Lee was all over the silver screen and Kwai Chang Caine (main character of the popular television series entitled, "KungFu") was teaching Buddhism and Chinese philosophy to people of all ages through the medium of television. In a time when no one knew what kung-fu was, schools started to spring up everywhere. This was also a time when American society protested regularly on issues of equal rights, freedom and peace. This movement of kung-fu gave the promise of spiritual enlightenment and physical empowerment that people were seeking.

The Strength to Overcome

My story begins here as a young boy who came from a politically influential family in Cuba (my father was member of the 2506 Assault Brigade and my grandfather was former vice president of Cuba), which like China, was also taken by Communism. I lost my father to the war of The Bay of Pigs. Born in the United States six months after his death, my life had been compromised even before I was born. Where would I find the strength to overcome these obstacles?

After having seen a few Bruce Lee movies and Caine on television, I knew what I wanted—kung-fu. Just where I would find a teacher was a great mystery. Well, as great fortune would have it, while driving with my grandfather in little Havana, Miami, there it was, this great big sign, "Florida Shaolin Kung Fu Federation".

I felt my wish had been granted. This is where I met my first sifu, master Bak Hay Chin. This great man taught bak si lum, bak sing choi lee fut and Yang style tai chi chuan. I found a new home, a new father, and a great source of strength. So, at the age of 11 I began my kung-fu training. As time went by, I realized this was a lot harder than anticipated. Since early childhood, I had been plagued with many physical ailments. With this weak constitution I often felt I was fighting for my life. I realized that I could not quit. If I did, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I continued training very hard, five days per week, three hours per day, in my backyard at night, in my small bedroom, whenever and wherever I could. Just as I began competing in tournaments, my school closed. My despair was unimaginable. The very thing that gave me the support and strength I needed was gone. It was like losing father number two. Another broken heart.

For Love of the Art

George SalisMy love for the art was so strong that I continued to train and compete on my own. Fortunately, persistence wears resistance. At one of my many competitions (over 300), I was approached by a master of emperors long fist and monkey style, George Salis. He took me under his wing as his assistant. Our sessions together were grueling and never less than three hours long. With his awesome direction I reached a state of personal strength and confidence that I never knew I possessed. It was during this time that I became a formidable contender at competitions. But, as with many martial arts schools, "The Chinese Pugilist Institution" (Salis' school) closed after a few years. More broken dreams.

As perseverance is an important lesson of kung-fu, I continued to train hard on my own. One day I received a call from si suk (kung-fu uncle), sifu Fu Jerry Lee. He was getting ready to open a school, "The Chin Wah Kung Fu Association", and he needed an assistant. I felt the proud responsibility of a sifu well up inside my life. If I did not help and we did not follow through on what we had been taught, it would mean the end of traditional kung-fu in South Florida. So, sifu Lee and I stepped up to the plate and opened our first school in 1979. I was 19.

As time went by, Chin Wha Kung Fu Association also closed. It was at this time at the age of 21 that I chose to go out on my own, opening a few schools and then closing them to the perils of bad business practices. I was a great sifu trained to develop skills in others, not a businessman. Fortunately, I never gave up and learned many lessons along the way. After much trial and error I opened up my present school, Kung Fu Connection, which has been thriving in North Miami for 11 years. I remained loyal to both my shaolin and long fist sifu by incorporating both styles (or systems) into my classes.

A Gift of Life

Master ChinThey say that it is within the giving that you receive. So because of good karma (actions) my sifu Chin came out of retirement to continue my discipleship. It was wonderful to train with him again as he engaged me in more shaolin forms. I was awestruck, however, by a very special gift he bestowed upon me--hua shan pai chi gong. This ancient Taoist style was for all practical purposes lost in time. As was the custom of traditional Chinese arts, sifu Chin refused to teach this style openly. I was the first non-Chinese who received this amazing lineage. Maybe if one traveled to China and climbed Mount Hua, traversing the difficult terrain to possibly gain entry to the temple and then finding one of its monks, you might by chance catch a glimpse of ha shan pai chi gong.

The first 36 exercises are preliminary steps to condition the organs and meridians. This is considered level one with a total of 108 exercises. You must practice this level for at least ten years before you can proceed to level 2, which consists of another 36 exercises that slow the aging process. You must practice this level for another then years before proceeding to level 3, which contains 36 exercises and is devoted entirely to spiritual training. You can't imagine my joy upon being exposed to this secret system of longevity. After all the years of struggle I felt this was my gift for all my loyalty and devotion. But what followed was practically unimaginable.

In early 1998 I received a visit from a kung-fu brother, sifu Roberto Baptista. He is a disciple at my grandmaster's school in Brazil. He told me that I would receive an invitation to travel to Brazil to meet my master's master, Chan Kwok Wai. My grandmaster was hosting a workshop for all northern shaolin sifu to preserve the integrity of the style by standardizing the shaolin forms. This meant that I would soon meet my grandmaster.

Home Away From Home

When I arrived in Brazil I was taken directly to the school in Sao Paolo. there I met a living legend, grandmaster Chan Kwok Wai. Just as great grandmaster Gu brought northern shaolin to the South of China, master Chan brought shaolin from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere as a result of the exodus from China. He was a disciple of the great hero of the historical "Boxer Rebellion", great grandmaster Gu Yee Chang. I also became acquainted with my international shaolin brothers and sisters, Thomaz Chan H. Kit, Mauro O'Hara, Andre, Nereu Graballos, and Marcelo Antunes. More great karma had come to me. I must be doing something right.

As the three-day workshop progressed, I participated in and was spectator to all sorts of great skills from the authentic shaolin--mantis, drunken monkey, golden bell, iron shirt and palm, and weapons. There were over 80 forms of shaolin and over 300 in master Chan's repertoire. Seeing this great man of well over 65 years moving in a way I'd never seen before was a great inspiration. It struck me that this must have been what it was like to see our tai si gung Gu Yee Chang. Not only has Chan Kwok Wai mastered over 12 styles, he has created a center for promoting authentic bak si lum, bak sing choi lee fut, seven star mantis, zu jian men, and fu bagua.

This center, "Sino-Brasil Kung Fu Academy", along with these seminars, will insure the survival of the authentic moves, applications, and weapons forms without any distortion. No missing moves, no personal interpretations, no flourishes of any sort. In these modern times, purity is a rare and noble accomplishment.

Another seminar is being planned by grandmaster Chan. Its purpose is to continue to transfer the purity of this lineage, share information, and ultimately standardize all the northern shaolin forms. Join us if you have a sense of purpose and responsibility for the northern shaolin system. All sifu should regard this as a great opportunity to honor this 1,500-year-old tradition.

In an age where society is so easily swayed by the latest martial arts fad, it is our duty as martial artists to preserve one of the few remaining legacies of our time.

Pictured below, from top to bottom: 1) Grandmaster Yang Sheung Mo. 2) A Kung fu Connection student works on an ancient form. 3) Grandmaster Chan Kwok Wai. 4) Students also train in a variety of weapons.

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