MASTER ERIC LEE
"King of Kata"
"Kata" is the encyclopedia of the martial
arts systems. If you are doing the original, compulsory form, then
you are training in the original traditional movements. I like
forms because it has improved my physical abilities. It has given
me strength, endurance, coordination, balance, timing, flexibility,
focus and much more because it helps your cardiovascular system.
I think it's beautiful."
Thus spoke Eric Lee, who reigned as " The
King of Kata " from 1970 to 1974. During this time, he amassed
over 100 world titles in Kata competition. Of Eric Lee, Black Belt
Magazine is quoted as saying . "Without a doubt, the most
influential forms performer of his time . "The Original Martial
Arts Encyclopedia states, "Before the advent of form ratings,
Lee was unofficially the number one form champion in the U.S."
Born in Chung Shan Village, Canton Province, China
Eric reminisces, "I was influenced to take up martial arts
by my dad in China. After dinner, they would hit the gong (the
signal that the evening workout was about to begin). My dad was
one of the students at the time. He studied Choi Li Fut. "Everybody
wanted to know Kung Fu in China", says Eric. It's culture.
The Sifu's are much more respected in China. In America, when you
are 18, they expect you to take care of yourself; when you are
65 you are expected to go into a convalescent home . but in China
the martial arts are so ingrained into the culture that when the
Sifu's grow old, they are greatly respected. In martial arts, we
carry on a legacy, we pass on our system to our children.
As a youth,
Eric remembers, "My family owned two herb
shops in Hong Kong and we lived in the back of one of them. In Hong Kong, the
herb shop and the family doctor/drug store were in the same location. We would
cook the herbs for the patients according to the doctors instructions." While
in Hong Kong, when he had time on his hands, Eric went to the movies. "I
was impressed with the beauty and the incredible power and strength of the martial
arts. The Kung Fu movies in Hong Kong were in Black and White. I used to watch
the legendary WON DUCK HING. I got a lot of inspiration from watching these old
movies. As a young teenager, Eric was sent to school in Nicaragua and stayed
with some friends of his grandparents. "I didn't know anybody there," says
Eric. "That was before Nicaragua became communist. Everyone spoke Spanish
and English. I had lived in Hong Kong and learned a little English there but
not enough to communicate with the local people."
By the time he reached his mid-teen years, Eric
remembers, "My dad, grandparents, and everybody resided in
California where they had moved the family business to Oakland." In
spite of his rich heritage on the periphery of martial arts in
China, it was in California, at about age 15 or 16, that Eric Lee
started his formal martial arts training. Eric tells his story, "I
was in Oakland, in Junior High School, and the biggest guy in the
school said, "Eric, look at the bird," I looked up and
he hit me with a chop in the throat. I was choking for a long time.
The next day, I sought out a martial arts instructor so that I
could learn how to defend myself. I went to two or three schools
at the same time when I first started studying Southern Hunang
Ga system and also some Wing Chun."
"I studied with AL DACASCOS intensively
from 1968 to 1973." Says Eric. "His style was unorthodox." The
style was Wun Hop Kuen Do Kung Fu (way of the combined fists).
Eric states of Dacascos, "We have a similar kind of mind you
have to be open to accept new and original things. Al lives in
Oregon now. We still stay in touch. I learned a lot from Mr. Dacascos
and from all my instructors. They will always be my instructors."
"From 1968 to 1972, I had my own club. It
was an open mat situation that anybody was welcome to share. We
had Tai Chi, Aikido, Tae
Kyan Do, Praying Mantis, Choi Li Fut, and many others came and went. We were
all martial artists and attending the same college. We would spar, have outsiders
come, share, and learn together. Some of the people that were there were :
Alex Feng (Judo), Luther Secrease (Tae Kwon Do. Patrick (Praying
Mantis), and Harry
( a Japanese man who taught Aikido). Those days, I was mainly interested in
learning.: Eric continues, "Bruce Lee had his school in Oakland
and he had a major influence in my life. I met him but never studied
with him. He was never around."
In addition to his diverse
open hand karate training, Eric was fascinated with weaponry. "I
have mainly studied in Chinese weaponry.: he says. Indeed he has
over the years become proficient in over 35 different
weapons. Eric states, 'There basically four categories of weaponry: Long Weapons
(Kwan Do, like spear, stick,, etc). Flexible Weapons (whip chain, three section
staff, nunchaku), throwing weapons (throwing stars, darts, knife), and Swords
(hook swards, tiger hook swords, broads swords, double edged straight swords).
Once a person masters the four categories, then it's just a matter of adapting
to the nuances of the individual weapons. For me, "say's Eric. "it
just came naturally. I had the patience for it and just adapted to it." In
Kata competition, Eric mostly used the Chinese single or double swords. "They
were easy to control," he says.
A consummate competitor, Eric remembers, "I
always tried to compete in three divisions: Kata, Weapons Kata and sparring.
As a Black Belt,
I was undefeated in kata and weapons kata. I competed in tournament point
fighting. I actually took a few Grand Championships and I also
lost some . . . I competed
against Benny Urquidez.
Eric had a huge impact in tournament kata competition. "I
started using music along with my demonstration katas in about 1970. At the
beginning, they (the judges) would not accept it. I met a lot of resistance when
to use the music. Sometimes I would have to change a movement in a kata to
adapt to the music. The traditional teachers felt that I bastardized the traditional
value of theforms."
But Eric marched to the beat of a different drum
as he used strobe lights, black lights, fog machines, sound effects,
comedy, flash, and whatever else was available. Looking back on
those kata competition days from the vantage point of his current
career, Eric comments. "I am a film maker myself. Who would
make a movie in black and white with no sound? Nowadays, nobody
would be interested. It would be boring." For Eric, he prefers
to have the impact of the entire spectrum, of the audio and visual
effects available for his use in kata performance.
Then why, "asked this author, "in your
opinion, has musical kata not come into the prominence that perhaps,
it should have? Eric responded, "A lot of people who go to
the tournaments are traditional teachers, and who brings the students
to the tournaments? The teachers do."
While Eric remains an
active martial arts practitioner to this day, his career had taken
a shift some years ago. "I retired from active
competition in 1974. "says Eric." I had always been interested in films
but never had the opportunity. I auditioned for, "The Killer Elite" in
San Francisco. I later moved to LA and got the "bug".
Perhaps Eric Lee's best-known movie is "Big
Trouble in Little China." He has also had major roles in:
Blood Sport II., Ninja Busters, Weapons of Death, Fist of Iron,
The Shinobi, and The Game. Over the past twenty some-odd years
his cinematic career has taken many other exciting turns. He has
either starred, co-starred, or been featured in many other major
motion pictures and television series. Some on the most memorable
include: Ring Of Fire I & II, Death Match, Rambo, Misfit Patrol,
License To Kill, Strong City, Smoke on the Water, Hanoi Hilton,
Talon Of The Eagle, Steel Justice, Future Kick, Death Machine,
Falcon Claw, Good Guys Wear Black, Shame Shame On The Bixie Boys,
Uncommon Valor, Into The Night, "A" Team, General Hospital,
Bob, Call To Glory, Airwolf, "V", Tales of the Gold Monkey,
Kung-fu Series, Fall Guy, L.A. Nightlife, For Love And Honor, Joe
And The Colonel, Beauty And The Beast, Hollywood Beast, Creature
Features, Me & Mom, Incredible Hulk, Bring 'Em Back Alive,
Hunter, Gavalan, Scarecrow & Mrs. King, Greatest American Hero,
Gong Show, Rousters, Price Is Right, World Martial Arts Challenge,
Just For Kicks Television, Evening Magazine, Kitt And Rene Show,
This is Hollywood, A&E's Martial Arts Special, and the Hollywood
Reporter. He just completed work on Lethal Weapon IV and recently
starred in The Master Demon.
As a renowned martial arts performer
Eric Lee has been a "starring
attraction" in literally hundreds of shows around the world. He has been
billed on and performed in some of the largest martial arts shows in the world
including: The Coliseum Martial Arts EXPO and World Tournament, The Second World
Martial Arts Expo, The British Martial Arts Extravaganza, The Las Vegas Martial
Arts Show, The South America World Martial Arts Tour, Arnold Schwarzenegger's
Fitness EXPO'98, Ed Parker's Internationals Martial Arts Tournament, Hawaiian
Tournament of Kings, and hundreds of regional, national and International karate,
kung-fu, Tae Kwon do and Kempo tournaments.
He has also been featured on the cover of virtually
every martial arts magazine in the world. With the exception of
Bruce Lee, Eric has perhaps been featured more than any other kung-fu
practitioner in the 20th century. His educational and instructional
Seminars have been attended by thousands of martial arts "Devotees" around
Mr. Lee's martial arts instructional books and
video tapes include: Fight Back . . . A Self-defense Guide, The
Chinese Broad Sword, Black Belt
Magazine Video series KUNG FU WEAPONS (Three Sectional Staff) and (Double Broad
Sword), and the entire Eric Lee's educational video series (over 50 titles) that
include Health, Chinese Healing, Vitality, Martial Arts Acting, Exercise & Conditioning
and other martially related subjects.
In addition, he has received numerous awards for
his many contributions to the "world of martial arts".
He has received such prestigious honors as the Crystal Award (lifetime
achievement), inducted into the Gallery of Fame, received the Southern
California Motion Picture Council's GOLDEN STAR HALO AWARD, Bob
Wall's WHO'S WHO in the MARTIAL ARTS, and many other special honors
that embrace the epitome of "Martial Arts Excellence."
He is a featured inclusion in virtually every martial arts
reference book in the world. Some of the more notable include: MARTIAL ARTS:
Traditions, History, The Martial Arts SOURCE BOOK, The BLACK BOOK , MASTERS,
FOUNDERS, LEADERS of American Martial Arts, WHO'S WHO in the Martial Arts Elite,
and WHO'S WHO in Karate.
"Lately," Eric says, "I have been
really interested in directing. I have always been interested in
the creative part of
industry. Martial art are very creative for me because it takes the mind to
move the body." Eric Lee's body is still moving as he continues
to train in his beloved martial arts, stating, " I train for
a different purpose. I train for flexibility and energy. Depending
on what project I am working on, I train
in moderation in that area. I didn't know the balance when I was younger: How
much to rest, how much to eat, etc " Eric reveals the anchor of his balance
As to the role that martial arts has made in Eric's
personal development he says, " A lot I have been able to
contribute to other people and they have been able to contribute
to me. It has certainly given me a lot
of richness in my life. From the physical point of view, it has helped me
keep my health together. I am in pretty good health because of
the training involved.
It has broadened my mind with culture: the history and culture of the arts.
Mentally, it has helped me with discipline because, in the martial arts you
have to train
and stay motivated. Martial arts has given me a lot of incentive to keep
Currently, Eric does occasional seminars and continues
to teach a small number of his advanced students. As for his future
in the martial
arts he says, " I would like to get more educational tapes out there.
I wouldn't mind giving motivational talks for other martial artists all around
After an undefeated reign as "King of Kata " for
five years, and honors such as Black Belt Hall of Fame, Armed Forces
Appreciation Award, 2 Golden Fist Awards (best weapons championship,
best kata champion), to name a few, Eric humbly says, "I just
want to continue to learn and improve in the area that I like.
As in anything, we must have a beginner's mind. I believe we should
never stop learning anything. Martial arts is a way of life, it
is much more than kicking and punching. It gives you a good feeling
when you can share what you have learned."