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Meet the Real-Life Kung Fu Warrior Marching in This Year's Chinese New Year Parade

Ian Eck | February 14, 2014 | Lifestyle Story City Life

Kung Fu isn't just about breaking boards and high-pitched yells of fury. It's an art form, a lifestyle, a moral code. It's also a good bit of fun. This Saturday at the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade, the internationally renowned Tat Wong Kung Fu Academy will bring the Terracotta Warriors of China magically to life. Picked by the 2014 Parade Committee as the opening act of the Chinese New Year's Parade, the Academy will put on a story-driven, choreographed show of Kung Fu expertise. It features students, experts, and twelve-pound costumes specially ordered from China. We sat down with instructor and World Class Kung Fu competitor Mike Lee to talk about the event and the Academy.

San Francisco magazine: What will the routine consist of?
Mike Lee: It's kind of like Night at the Museum. Some of our top students and teachers will be dressed as Terracotta warrior statues. There will be a tour-group of children with their parents, and when the parents are out of sight, the statues come to life. It's very well coordinated, with all these warriors doing Kung Fu in unison, and when the parents come back, the statues go back to being statues.

What is the brand of martial arts you practice at the academy?
We practice the Choy Li Fut school of Kung Fu.

How long have you been practicing that?
17 years. I started in middle school. One of my friends was into it, and he took me to a show. After seeing the performance, I was inspired.

Do you value Kung Fu as more of a defense system or an art-form?
For me, it's a way of life. Not only is it self-defense and a great physical activity, but it's given me much of the confidence and self-discipline that I have today. You know, you do the movements and you do the exercises. You learn how to defend yourself, and in that process, you learn more about yourself.

So it's meditative?
It's more reflective. It challenges you to be your best and accomplish things that you never thought were possible. And there's a morality of mind we teach as well. The four principle moral values, in order of importance, go: Kindness, Integrity, Wisdom, and Bravery.

Do you practice any other types of martial arts?
I do some Chinese kickboxing called Sanda, which we also do here. And if it wasn't for that I wouldn't have been able to be part of the national team that travels all over the world. I just got back from Malaysia last year, where the world championships were held. We've also been to Brazil, China, Argentina, Canada, and all across the country. It's called the USA Sanshou team, and the academy is a big feeder into that team.

What's your favorite Kung Fu movie?
[Without missing a beat] Enter the Dragon.

Bruce Lee right?
Yeah. You gotta watch it. There's a funny youtube video where Jackie Chan admits that one of the greatest moments of his life was as an extra getting hit by Bruce Lee, and how Bruce Lee was so gracious about it. It's great. And obviously if there was no Bruce Lee, there'd be no Jackie Chan.

What's your greatest motivation for practicing and teaching Kung Fu?
The opportunity to help people become better people. They don't have to necessarily be the best martial artist. But the practice helps them be better students in schools, better parents, better friends to each other. When you believe in yourself, it radiates from you.

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