The founder of Jow Ga Kung Fu in America has been called a “living legend” and honored by the U.S.A. Wushu Kung Fu Federation (USAWKF) as “outstanding master” in 1998. With that coveted award came induction into the USAWKF Hall of Fame and a tribute that acknowledged Master Lee’s “profound ability to inspire the many people around you”.
Born in a small village in South China, Master Hoy K. Lee has grown from a tough teenage fighter on the streets of Hong Kong to the respected and internationally recognized teacher and martial artist he is today. He was recently proclaimed an “American Treasure” by the Mid-Atlantic region of the USAWKF.
Sifu Hoy K. Lee
The founder of Jow Ga Kung Fu in America
Master Lee’s remarkable story was featured in the April/May, 1999 issue of Kung Fu magazine, which for the first time revealed the man behind the legend. If you joined Sifu’s class in Jow Ga Kung Fu, you would find that Master Lee has “a presence in the classroom like the eye of a hurricane”, the article says.
“He doesn’t do fancy stunts to display his ego. He doesn’t raise his voice. There are flashes of humor. The businessman has not leaped from the phone booth like a Kung Fu superman. What you sense is power on a leash.” One of Master Lee’s students said, “Master Lee is so precise he can swing his fist with full speed and force and not even bend a hair on your head.”
Who is Sifu Hoy K. Lee? Why is he called the Father of the Jow Ga system in the United States?
To understand the impact he has made in the world of martial arts, it is necessary to go back to that small village in Canton Province. It was here the wiry 9-year old began training in Hung Gar, a southern Kung Fu system that emphasizes strength and stability. When he was still a child, his family moved to Hong Kong, where he learned survival tactics on its mean streets like so many young men, including his friend, Bruce Lee.
During the decade he lived in Hong Kong, Master Lee studied various styles such as White Crane, Tai Chi, Karate, Judo, Thai and Burmese boxing from colleagues and masters.
Eager to explore other opportunities, he immigrated to the United States and followed his father to Washington D.C. Here he encountered Jow Ga Kung Fu for the first time through his instructor and work partner, Gee Do Po. Master Po had been the senior Jow Ga instructor in Shanghai. Later he met the late Dean Chin, a student of second generation Jow Ga Grandmaster Chan Man Cheung, one of the few disciples of founder Jow Biu. The two young men formed a strong friendship and Sifu Lee became a disciple of Grandmaster Chan.
When he was only 20 years old, Master Lee opened a new kind of martial arts school. Established in 1968, Lee’s Kung Fu and Karate School in Washington D.C. was unique in the Mid-Atlantic region. Not only was it the first to teach the Jow Ga system in the United States, but it was the only Chinese martial arts school to offer an “open door” policy.
According to Kung Fu magazine: “Students were accepted from all nationalities and backgrounds. Lee asked only that a student be dedicated to the martial arts, accept its discipline and philosophy and work hard”.
After Dean Chin’s untimely death in 1985, Master Lee became, and remains, the senior Jow Ga instructor in the United States. Now relocated to Virginia Beach and Yorktown, Virginia, Master Lee has continued to keep the Jow Ga tradition alive. He has trained many notable instructors. His school has produced outstanding students and champions and he has not changed his philosophy about teaching.
“It’s not about money”, he says in Kung Fu magazine. “Only a person who really cares can learn the true art of Kung Fu.”
Over the years, Master Lee and his schools have earned many honors. In 1979 Masters Lee and Chin were singled out when their Kung Fu school was chosen to represent the U. S. at the First Asian Kuoshu Tournament in Taipei, Taiwan. This honor was recognized by the District of Columbia when the mayor proclaimed a special Kung Fu Day to celebrate Jow Ga’s accomplishments.
In addition to international demonstrations, the Jow Ga school performed for former President Jimmy Carter at the White House and at several foreign embassies. Master Lee has instructed the White House Special Security staff and several police departments. He has also taught at numerous clubs, civic organizations and Chinese associations. In addition, he has conducted Jow Ga seminars all over the world and his students have performed at a number of world tournaments.
Master Lee and his students have been instrumental in developing an international understanding of the martial arts by assisting in the formation of notable organizations such as the U.S.A. Eastern Kung Fu Federation, the Wushu Kung Fu Federation and other organizations within the Chinatown community.
The man behind the crossed swords that represent Jow Ga feels there is still much to do. Master Lee does not believe in resting on his laurels. He is dedicated to the goal of bringing the true spirit of martial arts to a wider community. Master Lee welcomes both students and teachers to join the Jow Ga system. He is especially interested in instructors who can assist in the spread of Jow Ga by opening new branches in the United States and other countries.
Click here to read an article of Sifu Hoy K. Lee featured in Kung Fu Magazine.
Journal of Chinese Martial Arts, Fall 2013 edition.
Article correction: Page 33, Picture description should read: “Hoy K. Lee with his teacher Sifu Gee Po Do”