OKINAWAN KARATE-DO ACADEMY MEIBUKAN GOJU-RYU TM
Hing-Poon Chan was born in Hong Kong in 1953, the last of twelve children. His early schooling was in Hong Kong, first at a Buddhism school, and then the well known Ling Nam school, before going on to the Pui Ying school, where he stayed until he finished grade eleven in 1971. His sister Winnie had begun the process of sponsorship to bring him to Canada, so that summer he spent polishing up his school English in the mornings and doing not much homework down on Repulse Bay beach in the afternoons.
He arrived in Marathon, Ontario, in November 1971, to live with his sister and brother-in-law until he finished highschool. Reflecting back on his first impressions, he says, "I woke up the next morning and looked out over the snow. And I said, yeah, this is home."
He was informed by the local highschool that his English was grade six standard, which delighted him. His English not withstanding, he completed grade thirteen in 1973. The first of several summers of hard work at the pulp mill provided his tuition fees for the University of Windsor where he went to study math.
Poon graduated in 1976 with a BA in math, and then embarked on a year's work for a double major in honours Economics and Math. "Didn't like it," he laughs. "Fortunately at the time in Windsor there was a program called Bachelor of Commerce for University Graduates; they nick-named it 'Special BComm'. I went into that program and took the two years. I graduated in '79 again." He smiles. "Didn't really major in anything, because I didn't like accounting, didn't like finance, didn't like marketing." He laughs again. "Just wasting time."
During the last year of the BComm, the school bought themselves a PDP 11 "state of the art" computer, so he had the chance to use it, and a terminal, which helped develop his interest in computers. He had taken some programming courses during his first degree, but the necessity of punch cards at the time left him uninspired.
He continued taking courses during the next year while working as a faculty member at St.Clair College, teaching statistics and "baby-sitting the first and second year students". After finishing the contract, he left for a "real job" in Toronto, as his wife at the time was pregnant. Two years later, he found a job with Health and Welfare Canada as a programmer/analyst and moved to Ottawa, where he lives now.
Poon started studying Goju-ryu karate when he was 14, along with his brother Ben, who was 17. In March 1968 they went to Mr. Kim-Hung Wong , a pharmacist, who lived in the neighbourhood and taught Karate in the evenings. "Kung Fu was out of the question at the time," he says. Real or imagined, it was widely perceived as having underground (Triad) connections that neither of them wanted to become entangled with.
The two boys were inspired by the growing popularity of karate and impressed by the heroes in the James Bond movies. He laughs at the thought. "Lucky for us we landed in a traditional school."
As they were both still in school at the time, they approached an older sister, who was a doctor practising in the city. She provided the 25 Hong Kong dollars per month they each needed to study. But when their mother got wind of it four months later, the funding was stopped. So they went to Sensei Wong and explained the situation: they had no money, but they still wanted to train.
He kept them on, asking in return for their dedication and some assistance in teaching, after they had attained a certain level. They trained three hours every day and were promoted by Sensei Suzuki to brown belt within the first year.
Soon after, they were sent out to a Catholic Community Centre to teach a class for him, and were even paid 60% of the tuition fee. "That was very nice of him," he muses. "Unfortunately, after that he turned professional, because we had a lot of students, and of course, when he turned professional, he had to worry about money. But he still treated me very well. I didn't really pay anything to him, and he even paid me back for the classes I'd teach for him."
He continued training with Sensei Wong until he left Hong Kong in November of 1971. He was promoted to Shodan in January of that year, also by Sensei Suzuki. "It was considered very fast, three years to Shodan," he says, but he was in the dojo from 5:30 until 9:00 every evening, despite his mother's objections.
Once in Canada, the young black belt found no Goju clubs around, and admits finding the general standard of other local clubs very disappointing. So he worked out on his own most of the time to maintain and improve his kata, and he sparred every Saturday in the gym with other karateka from various styles.
While at university in Windsor, Poon befriended a fellow Goju practitioner, Conroy Copeland, and the two began working out regularly together. It was Sensei Copeland who introduced him to Budoku kai in the mid 80s. Both in Toronto and in Orleans, Poon continued working out with different clubs until he founded his own organization in 1985.
Though he initially learned a Sai form from Sensei Wong in Hong Kong, he attributes the majority of his weapons skills to Richard Kim Sensei , of California, learning various forms in Tonfa, Sai and Bo from 1985. Richard Kim (Budoku Kai) holds a summer camp for karate and weapons, the last week of June every summer at Guelph University. He also comes to Canada several times a year for weekend seminars.
Poon has been a member of Budoku Kai Canada since 1985, also Canada Goju since 1994, the Meibukan family since 1988 and a member of the Humbo Dojo in Okinawa since his visit there in 1994. He made the visit with his daughter Leslie, and enjoyed the trip, having had the opportunity to train with the two sons of Dai Sensei Yagi, Meitatsu and Meitetsu Yagi. He also met Dai Sensei, who was unfortunately in the hospital at the time, so there was no opportunity to train with him, "or at least to brag about training with him." But, he says, he had a pretty good workout there and found the Okinawans very friendly.
In 1988 he started training in Wing Chung with a friend from work, Dr. Leo Lee, who taught him the first form, Siu Lim Tau. "But," he complains, "I was never really good at it; couldn't really get the sticky hand (Chi Sau) going, because of my karate background. I found it really awkward, until I met Eric Tuttle Sifu, who became a good friend of mine. And he said, 'no problem; I'll show you how to do it'. And he did."
This alliance began in 1990, when Poon attended a seminar by Jessie
Glover (Bruce Lee's first student), hosted by Eric Tuttle in Kingston.
It was also through Eric that Poon was introduced to Anthony Mirakian Sensei,
later becoming his representative in Canada.
It was this expanding into Kung Fu, he says, that has made a dramatic
difference to his karate. "It opened up my eyes and gave me the speed I
needed on my hand technique. It develops a tremendous sense of feeling
around the hand; you can sense the energy of your opponent."
He reflects on Sensei Wong's generosity towards him as a young teenager, and his refusal to let money rule over the gift of opportunity. "That is why," he says, "right now, I don't charge much. Because of that." Sensei Chan has run his karate club, the GTKA, as a non-profit organization since 1985, and in cooperation with the City of Gloucester since 1989. He calls the fees 'a token' for the year's training. They allow him to cover costs and provide his students with guest trainers to expand and reinforce their skills.
Why doesn't he open his own school then, with almost 30 years' experience,
when he teaches four nights a week anyway? No, he says firmly. He's a programmer;
that's what he does. Karate, he insists, is his passion, not his income.
(c) 1997 by Carol O'Connor September 1997
This biography profile was written by Ms. Carol O'Connor who is a freelance writer.