East West Kung Fu Schools
HOME OF BOK FU DO - SYSTEM OF THE WHITE TIGER - EST. 1967
Grandmaster Richard Lee had his first lesson in pugilism in 1946. His father was a professional boxer and his grandfather was a professional wrestler. Needless to say, there was a lot of encouragement in the subject at home. Lee grew up in a government housing project in a tough and poverty stricken neighborhood in New England. He learned quickly that life in the projects demanded a certain fighting mentality necessary for survival. Life at home was no different. Lee spent his youth under the watchful eye of his father, enduring a strict and unforgiving training approach that schooled Lee in the ways of boxing. It hardened Lee to the realities of his environment but inside he yearned for something more, a better life.
In 1953, seven years into his training in boxing, Lee joined the local YMCA. Having learned how to swim before he learned how to walk, Lee joined the Y primarily for the swim team. But he found himself hanging around after swim practices observing a group of Frogmen, today known as Navy Seals, who were using the pool for underwater training. After several sessions, the Frogmen noted the curious Lee and began to show him things. Impressed by his enthusiasm, the Frogmen quickly took Lee under their wing. They taught Lee the jujitsu movements they had been trained to use for combat, taking turns working the applications on their new apprentice. Lee felt first hand the effectiveness of the joint manipulation, joint striking, and the grappling that characterized the martial art.
In addition to his jujitsu training, Lee began studying the Japanese martial art style of Shotokan. Lee’s swim coach was a black belt in the art and encouraged Lee to learn Karate in an effort to improve his swimming ability. It was a mind focusing activity that taught Lee the benefits of training for the perfect movement through perfect practice. Lee realized that the martial arts should not only be centered on fighting but developing skill. Lee learned that the perfect punch delivered to the right spot could take down even the toughest opponent. Lee applied the same concepts for developing the perfect strokes in his swimming effort. It proved successful when Lee won the Connecticut State Swimming Championships in 1955.
In 1957, Lee moved to California where the swimming competition was thought to be world class. Once in California, Lee established himself as a true swimming hopeful for the 1960 Olympic Games. Lee fell just short of an Olympic berth and needed an outlet to redirect his energies.
That is when Lee met Grandmaster Al Tracy. Tracy had just opened his school in San Jose, California. Lee liked Al right away and for years took private lessons with him on an average of five days a week. Lee went on to become one of Tracy’s first five black belts and went professional at the school with Al in the early 1960’s. After several successful years growing the school, they put together a business plan to expand the organization. In 1967 Lee opened his first school in Castro Valley, California. It was a former department store and was easily one of the largest schools of martial arts in the United States.
Upon hearing about the construction of this impressive facility, Grandmaster Ed Parker visited Lee in his new school. Ed Parker was immediately impressed with Lee’s dojo and in 1968 Lee joined the International Kenpo Karate Association as a Shodan black belt. Parker visited the school often thereafter and stayed as a guest at Lee’s home when he came to Northern California. Parker genuinely enjoyed the attitude of Lee’s students. Lee remained friends with Grandmaster Parker until his untimely death in 1990.
Between 1967 and 1974, Lee opened eight schools and knew with certainty he was doing his life’s work. But Lee felt a calling to reach further outward into the world of martial arts. He felt very strongly that he should meet the ranking leaders not only in the Republic of China but all over the world. At that time, no American could travel to Mainland China but Lee’s goal was to be the first American born Master to do so when it became possible. Lee realized that goal in the 1970’s when President Richard Nixon opened up China to the West. Lee’s visit to China was directed by the same tour guide President Nixon employed.
In 1972, Lee traveled all over the Republic of China meeting several of the top Grandmasters and Masters in what proved to be a cultural exchange of knowledge and ideas. Lee’s humble attitude and passionate approach to learning traditional Chinese martial arts was received warmly by the Chinese and earned him the respect of a nation. Upon his return to the United States, Lee’s travel and research efforts were already being featured in popular magazines in the Republic of China. An article in New Martial Hero Magazine with popular movie star, Bruce Lee, on the cover labeled the aforementioned Lee a world traveling scholar and described Lee’s sincere wish to experience the real face of Eastern Kung-Fu culture.
Lee’s quest to research the various fighting systems of martial arts around the world included visits to several countries each on the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. His extensive studies brought him insights that perhaps no other American born Master of Chinese martial arts had observed. He carefully distilled his studies down into one pool of knowledge that formed the basis of the Bok-Fu system Lee founded in 1972.
Later that same year, China put out the call for the best Chinese martial artists from nations around the world to gather in what would be the first ever World Kung-Fu Championships. Lee answered the call for America and trained a group of thirteen of his top students to represent the United States against more than thirty five nations. Lee went on to coach the U.S. team at the 1975 First World Kuoshu (Kung-Fu) Championships where his team placed first in the foreign teams division and first in the heavyweight fighting class. The success of Lee and his system, Bok Fu Do, on foreign soil earned American Martial Arts international respect.
The world class success that Lee began in 1975 is a pattern he has dedicated his life to. Since the First World Tournament in 1975, Lee’s students have represented the United States in nine World Kuoshu Tournaments including the 1975, 1978, 1989, 1992, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2015 events. Occurring once every three to four years, the World Kuoshu Tournaments are the Olympic equivalent for Chinese martial arts. In addition, Lee’s students have competed all over the world representing the United States in International Kuoshu Championships.
In 1994, Lee received his tenth degree black belt from Grandmaster Al Tracy in the presence of an international who’s who of Chinese martial arts. Those in attendance included General Chen, Shou-shan and General Wu, Hung-chang, the respective President and Vice-President of the International Chinese Kuoshu Federation in the Republic of China. Grandmaster Huang, Chien-liang, resident of the United States Chinese Kuoshu Federation also attended. Grandmaster Li, Wing-kai (Brazil), Grandmaster Henry Look, Master Raymond Go (England) and Master Tat, Mau-wong were just a few of the others gathered. Then President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore sent Lee letters of congratulations for his success. Senator Diane Feinstien wrote her congratulations and sent a personal representative to read the letter. Taoist monks performed a purification ceremony on Lee before and after the presentation. Witnessed by dignitaries, grandmasters, and masters from around the world and only his top students, Lee and his style of Bok-Fu was officially recognized internationally as one of the few systems of Chinese martial arts founded and developed in the West. General Wu and Grandmaster Huang then appointed Lee the Senior Vice-President of the United States Chinese Kuoshu Federation and Lee’s East-West Kung-Fu school in Alamo was subsequently memorialized as the West Coast Headquarters for all of Chinese Kuoshu in America. Lee’s style of Bok-Fu was cemented in the annals of martial arts as a system because of the worldclass ability and character displayed by Lee and his students for more than two decades of consistent performance on the world stage. From that moment forward, Bok-Fu became Bok Fu Do.
In 2000, Grandmaster Lee chose his first disciple in nearly forty years of teaching martial arts. In a private ceremony held inside the Alamo school, Grandmaster Lee picked up Master John Buckley as his first disciple. Tien Shan Pai Grandmaster Huang, Chien-Liang was there to witness this first in Bok Fu Do history. The choosing of his first disciple both established and formalized the lineage of Bok Fu Do. In the following years of choosing Master Buckley as his first disciple, Grandmaster Lee has picked up several other students for discipleship. This rare honor is bestowed only upon the people that Grandmaster Lee feels best represent the philosophies and teachings of Bok Fu Do, both inside and outside the schools.
In 2003, Lee celebrated his fiftieth year in the martial arts. This unique milestone was celebrated with martial arts colleagues in cluding Grandmaster Huang, Chien-liang, Grandmaster Henry Look, Master Kevin Preston and Master Joe Dunphy. In October of 2012, Grandmaster Lee watched the fruits of his labor come to full bloom at the 4th TWKSF World Kuo Shu Tournament in Malaysia. Calling it the proudest moment of his career, Grandmaster Lee watched on as more than fifty Bok Fu Do students competed, coached, refereed and officiated during the prestigious event. His disciples played prominent, prestigious roles including his first disciple, Master Buckley’s fourth appointment as United States head coach. Ms. Newman assisted as the women’s coach for the United States. And several of his disciples represented the United States as Executive Referee’s including: Master John Ozuna, Aimee Jurewicz Buckley, and Dr. Art Panella. Other disciples that represented the United States in a referee capacity were: Jennie Mitchell, Meghan Mannion-Gray, Bobby Cusack and Sean Gray.
In addition, for the first time ever Chinese Kenpo was an official division on the world level. It included a first time ever black belt division that was run on the lei tai stage, on full display for all to see. As the black belt mass attack division commenced, a hush fell across the banquet room and all heads turned to see the spectacle before them. In seconds hundreds of people rushed in, packing in around the lei tai to watch what they had never before witnessed. The black belt mass attack division captured the imagination of all, young and old, experienced martial arts masters and spectators alike. Says Grandmaster Lee, “The black belt mass attacks were fantastic. I watched as literally just about every person in the room – from countries all over the world – dropped what they were doing and rushed over to see the black belts performing.”
The competition was tight with Ryan Hodge holding a slim lead over Collin Lee. Ms. Dominguez was the last to perform. Says Master Buckley, who was the Chief Judge of the event, “I told the judges to leave some room on their score cards because the competition was that tight and Dominguez had yet to perform. I knew she was capable of beating the boys because I’ve seen it from her many times.” Ms. Dominguez proceeded to prove Master Buckley right by putting on the best mass attack performance of the world. Says Grandmaster Lee, “It was joyous for me all around – the proudest moment of my career. But when Ms. Dominguez did her mass attack, it brought a tear to my eye.”
Now in his seventies, Grandmaster Lee limits his time to working with his disciples, masters, black belts, and the top students of Bok-Fu-Do. His disciples and students continue to fulfill a legacy he began in 1975 of representing the United States in World Tournaments and other international events. His very best have been competitors, referees, judges, and even United States coaches. Though Grandmaster Lee has enjoyed success on every level in martial arts he likely remains more recognizable outside of the United States than in because of his commitment to promoting Chinese Kuoshu worldwide. As a result, he has remained largely under the radar in America but is not concerned in the least about self promotion. Instead, he is content in devoting his time and effort to developing the best students and martial arts competitors in the world.