Lee Koon Wah (2004)
Inducted into the A.M.A.H.O.F.(Inc) for 2004
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – TAI CHI
Inducted into the W.K.U.H.O.F. for 2004
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – TAI CHI
Sifu Lee Koon-Wah has devoted a journey of a lifetime of 65 years to martial arts. Sifu Lee travels around the world to help people improve their attitudes and their health through the use of Tai Chi, Chi-Gong and Meditation.
For his 6,000 students around the world, Sifu Lee is the epitome of strength, health, peace and relaxation. At 70 years of age, the youthful Sifu is far from retirement. The demand for his skills, honed to perfection over 48 years of teaching Kung Fu and Tai Chi, keeps Sifu Lee on a virtual non-stop journey throughout Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai, Los Angelas (USA) and Seattle (USA).
This is a snapshot of Sifu Lee’s journey:
1933 As a third generation of Chinese migrants, Sifu Lee Koon Wah was born in Malaysia on 10th January 1933. He was the son of the late Mr Lee Yee-Choy.
1938 At an early age of five years old, Sifu Lee was inspired by his father and started to learn Kung Fu. With his father, Lee learned the basic Kung Fu (Wushu) movements including the movements of shoulder, arm, waist, leg and hand as well as footwork, jumps, leaps and balancing.
1945 When he was twelve, he lost his father who passed away in an accident. Young Lee was accepted as a disciple by Master Yip Koon Wah into the largest Kung Fu school in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His father’s friend, Master Yip Koon-Wah was impressed with the strong martial arts foundation of the young Lee. Coincidentally, the given names of young Lee and his Master were the same. Ie. ‘Koon-Wah’. The Chinese believe it to be fate. The two of them were bound by a strong connection. This was evident from the first meeting, when Master Yip accepted the young Lee to be his disciple. Due to Lee’s passion, commitment and dedication to martial arts plus the synergy between the Master and the Student, Lee became the favourite disciple for Master Yip. Most people thought Lee was the son of Master Yip. In many ways, Lee and Master Yip were very much like father and son. Master Yip nurtured his disciple’s potential and had hoped that one day the young Lee would step in his shoes. The martial ethics that Master Yip taught remained with Lee which he used as the guiding principles for his teaching when he became a master himself. These ethics are: (1) Respect for Human Life. (2) Emphasis on Moral Principles (3) Emphasis on Cultivating Justice and Good Manners (4) Respect for the Teacher and Care for Each Other (5) Modesty and Eagerness (6) Freedom from Personal Grudges (7) Persistence and Perseverance.
1951 At the age of 18, Sifu Lee excelled in his class as the most gifted disciple. He was the youngest student to master the Yue-Family Chuan (discipline). The particular style of Kung Fu that was taught by Sifu Lee is named after General Yue Fei of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). It’s best known as the Yue-Family Chuan (discipline). It has combined the old and new Chuan theories and practices, the Yue-family Chuan is based primarily upon the principles of combining inner and outer bodies, theory and application. Its various executions stem from its principal philosophy of the positive and negative and the five elements of the heart, liver, lung, spleen and kidney in the human body. The Yue-family Chuan features simplicity and steadiness. Its executions are clear and clear-cut. This style of Chuan combines breathing and mentality to make fist blows powerful and complete.
1951 When Master Yip’s Kung Fu School was asked to represent the Kepong District to compete in the Malaysian Lion Dance Competition. Sifu Lee was chosen to lead the lion dance team, which they won the Honour for the Best and Fairest Lion Dance Performer Award. Sifu Lee was only 18 years old then, displaying leadership qualities, team spirit and courage.
1954 At the age of 21, Sifu Lee acquired the techniques of using 18 weapons. Master Yip acknowledged that Sifu Lee was the youngest and the brightest disciple who possessed the physical ability and flexibility to learn the complete set of weapons. The weapons used by Kung Fu (Wushu) masters originate mainly from ancient military weapons. The Eighteen-Arms, the term used to describe Kung Fu weaponary includes the sabre (broad sword), spear, sword (thin long sword), halberd (merits of the spear and dagger-axe), axe, dagger-axe (blades on both sides either on long, short and medium shafts), hooked knife, fork, whip, mace (Jian), hammer, talon (claw), trident-halberd, cudgel (stick), long-handled spear, short cudgel (twin or triple), ring with shape blades and meteor hammer. Some weapons are used to fight at a distance, while others at close range. Some are overt whereas others are covert. Some are hard while others are soft. Their functions are wide ranging. They beat, kill, hit, shoot and block with cutting blades, hooks, points or pricks. The assortment of weapons has added to the colourful programs of martial arts, and proficiency in Kung Fu involves being skilled in the techniques and usage of the Eighteen-Arms. Once a person has mastered the use of the Eighteen-Arms, he/she would be able to turn anything they hold into a weapon. Sifu Lee was particularly fond of the long sword, broad sword and the long sticks.
1955 At the age of 22, Sifu Lee was granted the title of a Sifu (ie. Master – fully qualified Black-Belt instructor) when Master Yip asked him to take over the Kepong Kung Fu School upon his retirement. As Kung Fu can cause harm and sometimes injuries cannot be prevented, Sifu Lee also studied Chinese herbal remedies with his Master. He became skilled in injury prevention and healing using herbal treatment. Sifu Lee’s impressive track record at a young age attracted many young men to join Kung Fu classes. He was seen as a role model and was upheld as a hero in the local community. Gangsters were prevalent around those times, many businesses and shopkeepers learned Kung Fu to protect themselves and their livelihood. As Sifu Lee’s name was well respected, many gangsters would stay away from the territories where Sifu Lee’s disciples were found. People involved in fights would often come to Sifu Lee for treatment. He would give them a lecture in respect for human lives and martial arts ethics during the treatment process. They walked away with more than they bargained for and most returned to Sifu Lee as his students.
1957 At the age of 24, Sifu Lee started to travel to major townships in regional Malaysia including Ipoh, Penang, Melaka and Johor Baru. Being an esteemed Kung Fu practitioner, Sifu Lee was always looking at self improvement and advancement in martial arts. He visited his retired Master Yip on a regular basis where Master Yip at an older age was no longer practising Yue-Family Chuan but instead he was doing Tai Chi Chuan. Tai Chi explained Master Yip, has health enhancing and disease curing functions. Master Yip said the younger group would always want faster and aggressive Kung Fu, he suggested for Lee to continue teaching Yue-Fei Chuan to the young and fit but perhaps teach Tai Chi to the mature and elderly. With the greatest respect for Master Yip, Sifu Lee has taken on his advice. When Sifu Lee started to practice Tai Chi with Master Yip, every motion seemed so familiar. He later discovered that his own father had taught him Tai Chi when he was five years old. The flow of Tai Chi was already in his blood and perhaps that explained why he had the advantage over other colleagues in picking up new techniques and was always ahead in his field.
Sifu Lee has idolised the warrior spirit of General Yue-Fei since he was a young boy. General Yue-Fei lived and died for his country. Even when he was betrayed by his King, the General sacrificed his life for his beloved dynasty. It was no surprise then Sifu Lee had made it his conquest to expand the name of Yue-Fei and Yue-Family Chuan (Kung Fu Discipline) throughout Malaysia.
In 1957, In addition to his Kepong Kung Fu School, Sifu Lee opened his first regional Kung Fu school in Ipoh, Malaysia. It was called the Ipoh Yue-Fei Kung Fu Association.
1959-1970 Between 1959 – 1970, ten other Yue-Fei Kung Fu associations were formed. In total, there were 3 in Kuala Lumpur, 3 in Ipoh, 2 in Penang, 2 in Melaka and 2 in Johor Baru. Sifu Lee had then developed a pool of talented students and instructors. Under Sifu Lee’s mentorship and guidance, a Chief Instructor was appointed to run each Kung Fu association and continue the tradition. The total students at the time were at the high of 3,000 people around Malaysia.
1964 Around the age of 31 years old, on his way back from Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur, Sifu Lee had a near fatal car accident when his car rolled down from the top of a steep hillside. During the crash, he knew he was going to die. He prayed to Buddha and made a pledge. He asked for a second chance because his children were young and needed him to be around. In exchange for his life, he would devote his life to Buddha. Sifu Lee asked for a sign as the car tumbled down the hill. It was a near death experience that Sifu Lee would never forget, he saw a bright light and it was Buddha escorting him and the car down to the foothill. When the car landed, it was upside down and the body of the car was damaged beyond repair. When the rescue crew arrived, Sifu Lee had been stuck in the car for hours. The most amazing thing was Sifu Lee was unharmed other than a few scratches. The emergency crew could not believe that they found him alive and unharmed. Sifu Lee didn’t try to explain what had happened. He knew he had made a promise to Buddha that he must keep.
1965 Ever since the accident, Sifu Lee went into Buddhism searching mode. During the years of 1965 – 1975, he visited temples in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Nepal. He met with many high ranked monks to ask for their guidance. In order to pay for his overseas trips, he was fortunate to get teaching assignments in those countries. Due to his amazing display of Kung Fu techniques and his graceful skills in showcasing the use of Kung Fu weapons, Sifu Lee was always asked to do demonstrations for the rich and famous (including politicians, corporate business people) during festive seasons or on a special occasion (such as Chinese New Year, Mooncake Festival, opening ceremonies, etc). He performed his martial arts in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. While he was in those countries, he researched more and more into Buddhism and he started to collect Buddha statues, books, chanting scripts and accumulate information and knowledge about Buddhism. Around the period of 1970-1976, he turned his Kepong (Kuala Lumpur) house into a mini temple where he welcomed everyone in the neighbourhood to pray and chant with him. Sifu Lee at the time wasn’t a monk yet. He, however, was acting as a messenger for Buddha as he had promised when he had the accident. He told the stories of Buddha and explained the importance of Buddhism philosophies and its application to everyday lives. Sifu Lee was starting to integrate physical exercise of Kung Fu with spiritual development through Buddhism philosophies.
1977 Sifu Lee, through one of his many overseas travels, he met the late Don Dunston, who was then the Premier of South Australia. Mr and Mrs Dunston were impressed with Sifu Lee’s martial arts and invited him to Adelaide for a teaching assignment. They then assisted him to apply for permanent resident status because many people in Adelaide found benefits from learning Sifu’s style of Kung Fu which incorporates self defence, development of internal strength to produce an exercise program for health and well being. Sifu Lee set up the Adelaide Yue-Fei Kung Fu Association in October 1977. He ran Yue-Family Chuan Kung Fu three days a week and taught Tai Chi lessons twice a week. The South Australia venues were North Adelaide Christ-Church Hall on Jeffcott Street and Marden Uniting Church Hall, Payneham.
1977 – 1993 Sifu Lee spent 16 years in Australia, he spent a majority of his time in Adelaide, where he taught and helped more than 1000 people to understand health improvement through Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Chi-Gong and meditation. He also worked with hospital patients and disabled to assist them in recoveries and rehabilitation after surgeries. During this time, Sifu Lee had also advanced in his spiritual and healing abilities. When it was appropriate for him to do so and when he had been given the permission, he acted as a medium to communicate with spirits who were causing disturbance and illness to people.
Between 1985 – 1993, Sifu Lee was invited to pay house calls by his devotees to places in Australia, Asia and USA. He performed many exorcisms but wished not to discuss about them as they were private matters and should never be public knowledge. He often said that there are lots of sceptics in this world. People who choose not to believe would never know that there are greater powers out there in the universe. Sifu Lee is more famous for his Kung Fu and Tai Chi than his ghost buster abilities and he likes it to remain that way.
1990-1995 While he was running his classes in Adelaide and Cairns, he travelled back to Asia frequently between 1990 and 1992. He had a few teaching assignments in Thailand where he was teaching Buddhist monks Tai Chi. Sifu Lee at the time was a single parent and had three children in Adelaide. His children were all grown up and each shown their independence. As he heard the calling from Buddha, Sifu Lee knew that it was time for him to give up the material world and become a monk. In 1993, Sifu Lee was ordained as a Buddhist Monk in Bangkok, Thailand. Between 1993 – 1995, Sifu Lee spent 2 years visiting different monasteries in Asia, sharing experience and knowledge with high ranked monks. He also visited Nepal and gained deeper spiritual knowledge as he worked with different people and Buddha’s disciples.
1995 – Now With the help of his former Kung Fu disciples and Buddhist devotees, Sifu Lee raised enough funds to build a Buddhist temple in his hometown, Kepong, Kuala Lumpur. The temple attracted people of all ages and different backgrounds. What Sifu Lee was able to achieve is extraordinary. It is the only temple in Malaysia that offers modern spiritual learning together with Kung Fu teaching. All the classes are free of charge. The temple receives donations and sponsorship from wealthy devotees and disciples because they believe that Sifu Lee has helped them achieve their goals and in return they want to make a contribution to his cause.
Sifu Lee’s temple is truly a unique wellness centre where it offers the ingredients to achieve the balance of body, mind and soul. Sifu Lee’s program connects an exercise system to a living philosophy and turning it into a natural healing system. This is what Sifu Lee is all about!
At 70 years old, Sifu is in good health and fine spirit. He tirelessly carries on doing what he does best – to teach Buddhist philosophies, harmonised chanting, Tai Chi, Chi Gong classes. Sifu Lee continues to teach in countries where his devotees have migrated to or have set up businesses. They include Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, USA and China.
The way that Sifu Lee would describe Tai Chi – ‘Visually it resembles an effortless dance but the precise movements are performed with a great deal of internal strength.’ He said, ‘Many ailments could be overcome once a person had reached the right state of mind and could manage and direct their Chi (ie. Energy).’
Sifu Lee likes to live a simple life – he is not in search of any fame or recognition. He does what he does because it is the charter of his life. His life time journey and contribution to martial arts has been told by his daughter, because she knows that her father is a special kind of master. Sifu Lee is a man who is always generous and has the ability to help people to understand themselves and become whom they want to be (even though they might not be able to see it themselves at the time).