The year was 1975. I was twelve years old and lived in the “New Chinatown” neighborhood of Chicago. Bruce Lee was very popular at the time, and I had just seen one of his movies, The Chinese Connection. Immediately after watching the movie, all I wanted to do was learn kung fu. However, being only twelve, and not knowing where I could find a school, I did not know how I could quench this thirst for knowledge.
While I was watching television one early evening, my mom asked me to get milk at our local grocery store at the corner of Argyle and Winthrop. I quickly put on my shoes and headed towards the store. As I neared the store, my eyes suddenly zoomed onto a new kung fu school that had opened up. I was exhilarated—though I did not know why, since I had no money and did not know whether my parents could afford lessons.
I decided to take a closer look. The school had enormous windows that had been glazed other with white paint. On top of the white paint was painted a strange looking green insect. I thought to myself, “What kind of kung fu is this?” I noted that parts of the windows were not completely covered with paint. There were cracks from which I could catch a glimpse inside the school.
I saw a man of medium build with dark black hair and incredibly huge forearms. He was wearing a black uniform, and I could see that he was teaching some moves. His arms and wrists moved in circular monitions, with his hands ending up as funny looking claws. I was struck by how chiseled his forearms were—how I could see every striation of his muscles. He looked really strong and had very pointy fingers.
In my excitement, I bumped my head against the window. Suddenly, I saw the man quickly make his way towards the entrance. I began to bolt, and as I ran past the door, hi instantly emerged and came after me. Seemingly out of nowhere, I felt a strong and from grip on my shirt. I tried to run faster, but I eventually realized that I was not moving. I looked down and saw that my feed were completely off the ground—I felt like a fish floundering in the air. I realized it was futile to resist, so I stopped struggling and he put me down. As I turned around, he demanded, “What some matter with you, what are you doing?” His English was very broken, yet I understood him. I told him I wanted to learn kung fu.
This was the first time I met my teacher, Raymond Ly (Ming Loy). Many of you amy not have heard of him. He did not seek big titles or have a large following of students all over the world as some teachers do, but he was well known in certain martial arts circles. My teacher was originally from Canton, China, but grew up in New York City where he was recognized as a skilled fighter. My teacher’s martial arts path lead him to many styles, such as Hung Gar, Eagle Claw, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, etc. However, it was the Seven Star Praying Mantis that truly captured his essence.
I write about my teacher to honor him, and pay respect to him and the art he taught me, the Seven Star Praying Mantis. My situ believed in the old way of teaching, such as training the basic stances, kicks, punches and Kung Li Kuen, over and over again. He would teach you at most three forms a year. He would always tell me, “Emel, people have no patience, just train.” You had to stay with him if you wanted to learn advanced knowledge and eventually become a disciple. My teacher and I may not have always agreed on everything. However, he always continued to be my friend, teacher and mentor.
I can recall my teacher taking me out to eat on the Far South Side when I told him I had been laid off from my job. He could tell that I was sad, and as a friend, he tried to cheer me up. As a teacher, he always had something to teach. It may have been a new form, a new application, whatever—but there was always something for me to learn. As a student, I always kept myself as an empty glass, ready to be filled with knowledge, Many times he would tell me to always continue learning, to study other styles, etc. As a mentor, he taught me many things about fighting—especially through the stories about his personal experiences.
I can recall a conversation with my teacher about how different things are nowadays than when he was younger. “Today, every shoots,” he said. He was lamenting how nobody fights with bare hands or knives anymore—instead, everyone just uses guns. I found his statement interesting, and I asked him to explain further. Instead of giving a full explanation, however, he shared the following story.
He recounted a time when he was in New York City and teaching martial arts. He and two of his friends (his friends were black belts) were challenged by Fuken stylists that were carrying knives. Without bragging or going into detail, he said both of his friends ended up in the hospital while he managed to defend himself. When the news of the incident got out, people would say, “He knows something.”
This story was just my teacher’s way of commenting on how in this day and age, killings have become too easy and unnecessary. In the past, defending one’s life meant utilizing skill that was painstakingly developed through arduous martial arts practice, During a fist conflict, opponents have more time to give thought as to why thy are fighting, and how much they are willing to fight for their cause. With guns, however, some people may not have thought through things carefully enough before making potentially life-altering decisions.
Another memory I recall of my teacher is a demonstration he performed with a large knife while teaching on Argyle. He showed everyone how sharp the knife was by slicing a sheet of paper. He then went through a series of movements with dynamic tension and deep breathing, and then closed his eyes. His close friend (Henry Fong) then took the knife and struck him on his bare chest with the sharp blade of the knife. To my amazement, not a cut appeared on his chest. All one could see were red marks going across and down his chest and stomach.
I will share one last story of my teacher.
I believe the year was 1996, and my brother and I were helping him move. I was driving a rented U-Haul, and my teacher was sitting in the passenger’s seat. We were heading east on 34th street when we came upon a police officer having difficulty apprehending a suspect. Suddenly, he shouted, “Stop!” He jumped out of the truck and I followed him. When the cop first saw us, he thought were were going to jump him, but before he could say a word, my teacher had grabbed the suspect’s hair and did a seven star sweep. Once the suspect was on the ground, I placed my foot on his chest. The cop quickly turned the suspect around to handcuff him and thanked my teacher.
The last time my teacher and I were together was to celebrate his 53rd birthday. I had just finished training, and he was going over details with me on various techniques. He wanted to try this new restaurant that had just opened up in Chinatown but it happened to be closed when we got there. I suggested red lobster and he readily agreed. We sat down and talked about his birthday, our years together martial arts, but most importantly—our friendship. We laughed about the times he got really angry with me, and the times I was stubborn. We made plans for the next seminar that he was going to teach at my school, and how he wanted me to help him teach. When we finished dinner he share details about the Lohan and afterwards said, “You have been with me over for over 20 years, but now you can really say you know something.” It was one of the best times I spent with my Sifu, but sadly, it would be the last.
On November 2, 2002 Master Raymond Ly (Ming Loy) passed away in his sleep.
As I reflect back I find myself feeling grateful for the relationship my teacher and I had developed. He was a teacher with great strength, character, loyalty—but most of all he possessed great martial skill.
I will never forget him.
Sifu Yamel Torres
Disciple of Raymond Ly (Ming Loy)