OKINAWAN KARATE-DO ACADEMY MEIBUKAN GOJU-RYU TM
Canadian Headquarters: Gloucester Traditional Karate Association

This interview was conducted by Mathieu Ravignat, a senior member of the Gloucester Traditional Karate Association, on February 2001 in Ottawa, Canada
Copyright © Mathieu Ravignat 2001

Qn:
Sensei could you please identify yourself and tell us something about your personal history?

Ans:
My name is Hing-Poon Chan (in Chinese, it is Chan Hing-Poon). I was born in Hong Kong in May 1953. I was the twelfth of my family and the youngest. I moved to Canada in 1971 and finished my high school in Marathon, Ontario in 1973. I finished my B.A. in Mathematics in 1975 and my B.Comm. in 1979 at the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario. Currently I am working as a programmer/analyst in Canada Customs and Revenue Agency in Ottawa.

Qn:
Could you please tell us about your martial arts background and why you chose to practice karate and what are your current martial arts activities?

Ans:
I started my training in Okinawan Goju Ryu karate-do in the beginning of 1968. My Sensei was Mr. Wong Kim-Hong. He was a student of Uyehara Ko Sensei, a senior student of Grandmaster Miyasato Eiiichi . When Uyehara Sensei left Hong Kong and went back to Okinawa, Suzuki Masafumi Sensei from Kyoto, Japan, also a student of Grandmaster Miyasato*, took Wong Sensei in as his representative for his Seibukan school in Hong Kong. I was promoted to Shodan by Suzuki Sensei in January 1971. It was considered quite fast, even in those days training seven days a week, at least three hours a day. I was always interested in martial arts but didn't want to do kungfu for one reason or the other. It is funny that one of the employees of my father was the last disciple of the famous Hung Gar master "Lum Sai-Wing". I could have been learning from him instead.

As far as I am concern, in karate, I have the best master anybody can ask for. Mirakian Sensei is probably the best and most knowledgeable Goju karate master alive in North America. His techniques are both powerful and refined. Above all else, he is one of the most honorable man I have ever met. I am very honoured to be recognized by him and trusted in me to be his representative in Canada.

For the past 15 years, beside karate, I have been learning different styles of kungfu from different masters. I have done some Wingchun, Chan Taichi, Xingyi, Northern Shaolin from Eric Tuttle Sifu and his teachers like Master Ma Hong from Hebei, China, Master George Xu from San Fransicico, also with Master Joseph Chen from Edmonton, to name a few. Currently I am learning from Kiem-Hou Lee Sifu, he is teaching me Bei Je (Ba Ji) (Eight Extremes).

Qn:
Sensei could you please tell us what for you are the traditional karate styles and which are not and what is Meibukan Goju Ryu?

Ans:
For me, the traditional karate styles are all the main Okinawan styles like Goju, Uechi, Kobayashi-Shorin, Matsubayashi-Shorin and other smaller styles plus several others in Japan like To'on (of Kyuta), Shito (of Mabuni Kenwa), Shindojinen (of Konishi Ryosuke), Shotokan, Shorinji, etc. Meibukan Goju Ryu is the Goju Ryu of Grandmaster Yagi Meitoku. It is his interpretation of Goju Ryu as taught to him by Grandmaster Miyagi Chojun. I started my training in the lineage of Grandmaster Miyasato and switched to Meibukan in the middle of 1980's. I think each school has its own merits. I am more comfortable with the Meibukan system, however.

Qn:
What do you think have been the positive and negative effects, both morally and technically of the west on the Asian martial arts?

Ans:
There are good martial artists and there are bad martial artists in the east and west. The things I don't like are the sport and marketing approach the west has brought toward the asian martial arts. Everything seems to be revolved around making money.

As for the technical aspect, in general, Asians are generally smaller and have to rely on techniques and finesse (and internal power and "chi" for the internal Chinese martial arts) while people in the west rely more on muscle power. I have learned and seen from several Chinese Taichi, Xingyi masters and they are usually the same size or smaller than I am, yet they displayed the most astonishing "chi" I have ever seen. Kiem-Hou Lee Sifu whom I have been learning from in Ottawa for the last 5 years is merely 5 feet one or two in height and weight no more than 110 pounds, yet he has the combination of devastating power, finesse and timing.

Qn:
Sensei, could you tell us what according to you is a traditional martial art?

Ans:
To me, traditional martial art means hard work, repetitive and long workouts on details - basic, basic and more basic in which Mirakian Sensei and Lee Sifu have always impressed upon me on over the past several years. For example, with Mirakian Sensei, every time we were in his dojo in Watertown Mass., the class was about four to five hours long. He would drill us on, say the Sanchin kata only, for about half an hour, correcting every single move and detail we may have missed. If your basics are no good, you are building your martial art skill on quick sand. Everything you do should be quality, not quantity. This is what most new students nowadays are missing. They want to train in martial arts but don't want to put in the time and effort. They want to learn all kinds of kata, forms, weapons but they can't even do a good stance.

Qn:
Sensei, what for you, are the major differences between a traditional approach and a non-traditional approach to the martial-arts?

Ans:
The major differences, as far as I am concerned, are the objectives, attitude and training method. In traditional martial arts, we train to better our skill for self-defense while in martial sports, people train to win tournaments and to look "cool", "flashy"(i.e.,to be a performer). In traditional martial arts, the more you learn/train, the more you feel inadequate while in martial sport, people generally have the tendency to think they are the best when they win. In tournaments, since it is a sport, there are rules, therefore, the martial sport students would practice their techniques according to those sets of rules. The common complaints my students and I have encountered when we workouts with other karate styles are: "you cannot use this technique; you can't punch/kick me here; this is not allowed in the competition!" Well, my answer to those students is: "tell that to the guys that attack you on the street!" In a traditional martial art, most certainly, we do not strive to look "cool" and "flashy." In traditional karate schools we only wear the white gi and in traditional kungfu class, all we wear are T-shirt, sweat pants or kungfu pants, and cheap sneakers. We are doing martial arts, not making a fashion statement. I think tournaments are okay as long as people know that it is just a game. We practice on the basics to strengthen our bodies and reflexes for the streets. I do not encourage nor discourage my students to do tournaments, most of them don't like it anyway. Quoting from Richard Kim Sensei "If you think that you have won a couple of trophies and feel that you are a good fighter and are able to defense yourself, than, you are sadly mistaken."

Qn:
Since you are a traditionalist, why do you think it is so important to practice and teach traditionally? Why is it that you think it should be the preferred approach?

Ans:
If martial art is not practiced in the traditional sense, we will lose sight of what the real objective and spirit of martial art is. I suppose if looking "cool" and flashy and that is what you are after, then by all means, do martial sports. As I said before in traditional martial arts, the more you train, the more inadequate you feel. On the other hand, when I observed over many years in most of the sports, the top players always display their arrogance like, " .. he is the second best in the world.." This is especially true in North American sports. There is a common Chinese kungfu saying "There is always a better fighter than you and you can always find a higher mountain than the one your are on."

Qn:
What do you think of sport karate and contemporary wushu?

Ans:
I think sport karate and contemporary wushu have their places, if looking "cool" and flashy is what you want. It is a good way to promote the arts to the uninitiate. Contemporary wushu was created by the communist Chinese so that they can control the real martial artists. It is sad to see the traditional styles are being systematically destroyed by these low lifes. On the other hand, several of the traditional internal masters I have had the good fortune to learn were from China. It is comforting to know that the traditional systems are still alive and well, albeit the numbers are smaller then they were.

Qn:
Since Bruce Lee was and remains perhaps the major influential figure in the eclectic martial arts movement, what do you think of his fighting arts legacy?

Ans:
I think Bruce Lee was not the first or last one to train in multiple styles and arts. In the old days, the Chinese martial artists had learned and trained with whomever they could. For example, the Xingyi and Baqua people always practice both styles together; in Wingchun, the staff form (Six and a half staff) was not originally a Wingchun form. In fact, one of the thing I noticed since I started training in kungfu is that kungfu practitioners are always fluent in at least two to three and sometimes more styles. I think Bruce Lee was a innovator. He felt the inadequacy of Wingchun in some areas and decided to correct it for his own use, and quite successfully. However, I think his major fighting skill was still based on the Wingchun system, especially his "chi sou" (sticky hands) skill. Most martial arts students only see what he did on his films and say that Bruce Lee was a great kicker (which he was), a good nanchaku fighter, but a lot of them fail to see that his sticky hands skill was his main fighting arsenal. I think his fighting arts legacy shows students that they should learn/see as many styles as they can and take the key of each style/art to better their own skill, and, to be a good all round martial artist, which Bruce Lee was, you have to open up your eyes and see, adapt other styles for your own use.

Qn:
Does Jeet Kune Do as a non traditional western affected martial art also share the failings of other non traditional approaches and why?

Ans:
It is difficult for me to say because I don't know Jeet Kune Do enough to comment about this. I think Bruce Lee passed away too young to make any real impact on the martial arts world. I know that in Jeet Kune Do class, the students mostly practice on practical fighting skill. I have not heard of many Jeet Kune Do students participate in open martial arts tournament. So, the way I see it, as much as Jeet Kune Do is a non traditional school, it does share the objectives of traditional schools. Perhaps it is because its founder was from a traditional school.

Qn:
How do you see the future for the martial arts in general and specifically for traditional martial arts?

Ans:
Martial sport is always going to be around and that is okay. It does serve a purpose to promote physical activities. I think it is always going to be more popular than the traditional martial art. It is encouraging to see, however, a small number of dedicated traditional martial art masters continue to teach the younger generation the traditional way. I have personally met and learned from several of them over the past few years. There are ample of opportunities for beginners who are keen to find a traditional school and master, they just have to look a little bit harder.

Mirakian Sensei, Poon Chan and Mathieu Ravignat

Second from right:Mirakian Sensei, Poon Chan, Mathieu Ravignat

*Suzuki Sensei and some of his senior students make special trips to Okinawa in June 1960, and May 1961 to learn and train with Grandmaster Miyasato.Go back


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TM Denotes the trademark of Anthony Mirakian of 151 Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown, MA 02155 USA, used under license by Hing-Poon Chan.