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LION/DRAGON DANCE

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CHEUNG SHU POI

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Cheung's Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy

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Shu Pui Cheung

Sifu Shu Pui Cheung cites growing up in poverty in Hong Kong as a prime motivation for his study of kung fu. Sifu Cheung attended elementary school in Kowloon City, a unique area of Hong Kong, which through a legal clause in the lease with Britain, was a sovereign area not subject to an British colonial law.   Every day he passed through a maze of buildings in a legendary "separate society" few have had access to.  His walk to school took him past heroin addicts, houses of prostitution, and people using public toilets as their bedrooms.   By the time he was in seventh grade, his family's poverty and forced him to quit school and begin work.  When he was 19, Sifu Cheung saw a legendary actor/martial artist Kuan Dak Hing in a move about Wong Fei Hung and realized that the traditional art form of kung fu could teach him how to be a good person, take care of others, and help poor people - in short, how to work to build a positive society in the midst of poverty.

Sifu Cheung studied kung fu at the Ho Lap Tin Martial Arts Academy in Hong Kong, which taught the Siu Lam Pai Hung Gar style.  The training was rigorous, requiring between 15 and 20 hours a week of study.  Sifu Cheung chose the school because of Sifu Ho's reputation, moral character, and his commitment to serve poor people.  At the time, many of Hong Kong's kung fu schools were involved in illegal black market activities, and students were often used as "strong arms" for criminals.  Ho Lap Tin's school was known for its moral righteousness.  Sifu Ho was an anti-imperialist who trained anti-Japanese forces in hand-to-hand combat in Canton during World War II.  After the war, he became a sifu to the fishermen who lived and worked near the Shaukiwan fish market.  He also practiced Chinese medicine and served the poor.  All this attracted Sifu Cheung.

In 1974, Sifu Cheung was brought to Philadelphia on a one-year contract to teach martial arts.  Another sifu of Hung Gar style who was scouting in Hong Kong and attending kung fu exhibitions and competitions there saw Sifu Cheung performing hand and weapons forms and invited him to come and teach in Philadelphia.  By 1976, Sifu Cheung had opened his own kung fu school, which is located in Philadelphia Chinatown.

Nowadays, Sifu Cheung and his students are an integral part of major events in Philadelphia Chinatown, including Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival, business openings, weddings, and other celebrations.  They have also performed in many places around the Philadelphia area.  Sifu Cheung loaned one of his school's lions to the Folklore Project's "Folk Arts of Social Change" exhibition and teaches in the Folklore Project's folk arts residency program.

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Dragon Dance

Dragon has been used for representing Chinese people since Hsia Dynasty (BC 2205 - 1766).  Hsia people wanted to create a representative symbol.  As time passed away, the sign continued to change.  It finally came out as a creature which has a snake body, horse face, deer horns, and eagle claws.  Chinese people called the new creature "Dragon".  The nation of Chinese people was a combination of different ancient Chinese tribes.  Afterwards, dragon became the sign of power and loyalty.  Therefore, Chinese emperors use dragon to represent themselves.

Nowadays, Chinese people consider dragon as fortune.   The legend of dragon said that dragon can expel all the evil things and bring rain when it roared to the sky.  Chinese people also call dragon a shui (holy) beast.   During the Chinese New Year, Dragon Dance can bring people fortune and safety.   Almost every part of the world wherever Chinese live has Dragon Dance to celebrate important Chinese festivals.

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Lion Dance (Sing-sze)

The history of Lion Dance has been handed down a long time ago.  It started at Three Kingdom of ancient China (AD 220-265).  Lion Dance is divided into a northern and southern branch.  It represents vitality and has functions of subjugating evils and expelling noxious influences.  This is the reason why Chinese people always have Lion Dance during traditional festivals and big celebrations to help bring the joy.

When the Chinese New Year comes, dancing lion(s) will pass by every resident door.  Chinese people use Lion Dance to get rid of calamities and believe the lion will bring the luck to them in the coming year.  Also, because of the sonorous sounds from the drum and cymbals, it creates a more joyful and delightful atmosphere.

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Lion Dance History

Lion-dancing is a traditional way to celebrate the joyfulness of new year in Chinese society since the Sung Dynasty (A.D. 960 - A.D. 1280).

It originated from a war between Sung army and its southern enemies.  At first, the enemies gave the Sung army a very hard time by using the so called "Elephant Army".   They were not only carried by those huge animals, but were also equipped with long spears.  On the contrary, Sung army was foot soldier who only fought with short weapons.  Despite a land slide defeat of Sung army, they still had plenty of fight left in them and came up with an idea to win the war back.  The realized if Lion is the "King of Beasts", an elephant should then be tamed by its appearance and courage.  Therefore, they stayed up several nights to make thousands of "Lion" by using cloth, ramie, bamboo skin, etc.   They painted colorful printings on the lions' mouths so wide open as to make them look more stern and bold.

Sung army was lucky enough to get them ready on time because the enemies came to attack again.  They sent out all their "lions" which were played by one soldier in front and one soldier at the back.  Due to their brave appearance and bold moves, even the huge elephants were terrified and became a disorderly crowd.  Most of the enemies were dropped on the floor and were easily caught by the Sung soldiers.  Finally, Sung army took a revenge on its southern enemies and won the war.

It was quite an event that almost every Sung citizen heard about it.  In order to share the glory of the victory, they also learned to make a "lion" and would play with it in new year days to signify a good start of a year.  They also considered the "lion" as a mascot and believed that lion-dancing was able to drive all evils away.

Ever since the Sung Dynasty, people will not only burn firecrackers, hit a gong, and "cha-cha" (cymbals), but will also play lion-dancing to welcome the arrival of new year.  IN which the "lion" will usually dance in front of each house/store to wish happiness, health, luck, and prosperity to all people concerned.  In return, those people will feed "chen" (vegetable) to the "lion" for its goodness.

Nowadays, no matter it is in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or anywhere in the world, as long as one can see a Chinese society, one can see the "lion" dancing on the street to celebrate the joyfulness of the new year, Chinese festivals, and all other important events.

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Free Fighting

Free-fighting seems to be an easy thing for everyone, however if you take a closer look, you will find that it contains the techniques of self-defense and attack. Obviously technique cannot be known by everyone. In order to get the best results a long time should be devoted to mastering the technique.

Still, the student must practice every step in order, and must go through a lot of hard work. For instance, practicing fighting exercises between two, three, or more people in order to improve the keenness of the eyes and ears and the quickness of the limbs and body movements. Simultaneously, the student must make use of what he has learned from Kung Fu in the fighting exercises, such as the use of fist and palms and the correct way to defend and attack.

From this, you can see that is is very difficult for a beginner to do these things. In fact, free-fighting is not at all good for a beginner. He knows nothing about the Martial Arts, and he has no experience of such experience of such exercises. If the beginner is stubborn and practices free-fighting in the first few lessons all he gets is black eyes, a broken nose, or broken ribs! Besides, when the student gets involved in free-fighting he always wants to win, but he does not want to hurt the opponent. To be able to do both, the student has to develop the Martial Arts and the techniques of self-defense and attack. The only way to solve this problem is for the student to understand himself fully. For instance, he should consider how long he has been learning Kung Fu, how much time has been practicing it, how quick his limbs are, and how fast his body moves. Only after this kind of self-examination can the student attempt the free-fighting exercise.

Finally, the student must keep in mind that internal strength must be developed through free- fighting. Every action must be useful to the student himself. A Chinese proverb says that "even when a lion fights against a rabbit, he still tries his best to win." By the same token the intention of Martial Arts can be achieved though concentration and perseverance.

--- Cheung Shu Pui

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Pictures

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This page was developed by and is maintained by lumberjack.
This site was last updated on 5/16/2015.

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