AN INTERVIEW WITH
HALBERT J. LEE
AUGUST / 2011
AUGUST / 2011
Franklin Puello and Martialforce.com, the most thorough online Martial Arts Magazine, welcomes all loyal readers to this month's Issue. This issue is packed with profiles of Great Martial ARTISTS, but I would like to introduce a good friend who has taken the Artist connotation to another level. I am a witness to his complete immersion into the Martial Arts; His outstanding performances and teaching embody the term Artist. When listening to this Master and watching him perform the term Artist is re-defined for he has really earned to be called a Martial ARTIST. Without any delay, I would like to introduce to you: Grand Master HALBERT J. LEE. Welcome, Master Lee. At Martialforce.com we pride ourselves in profiling, introducing and re-introducing extraordinary Masters of The Martial Arts who have had great impact in the Martial Arts, specifically in the East Coast, and for this purpose I have seek you out and prepared to present you to our readers.
Interview by Franklin Puello
Martialforce.com: What is your Full Name? Where were you Born, originally from and where did you grow up?
HALBERT J. LEE:My name is Halbert J. Lee was born in New York City, N.Y. and grew up in The Bronx, New York.
Martialforce.com: What is your current occupation?
HALBERT J. LEE:I am an Artist, Bonsai designer, business owner and Martial Arts Teacher.
Martialforce.com: When was your first introduction to the martial arts, What Style of Karate/ Kung Fu?
HALBERT J. LEE: My Uncle Calvin first introduced me to martial arts when I was 5 years old. The system is called Isshin Ryu Karate. He stopped teaching me and took me to his Kung Fu instructor and the style he taught was Yung Fu Pa. This was his family's system.
Martialforce.com: Who was/ were your instructor/s?
HALBERT J. LEE: My instructor was Lu Yung Junior.
Martialforce.com: Where did he train and who was his Teacher?
HALBERT J. LEE: Lu Yung Junior was trained by his father, Sigun Tagi Yung, Sr. and by his grandfather; Sigun Lu Yung, Sr. Training took place in the family’s traditional home in the Hunan Province of China.
Martialforce.com: Which instructor has influenced you the most, and how?
HALBERT J. LEE: Of course, my instructor Lu Yung greatly influenced me. As I grew older and had the opportunity to see other instructors competing, I was influenced by the following martial arts giants: Abdul Mussawir, T. Taylor, Fred Miller, Happy Crump, Dennis Brown, Little John Davis, Ron Van Clief, Philip McRae, Reno Morales, Master Errol Bennett and many others. As I was growing up, these were my super-heroes. They didn't wear a cape.... they wore a gi. They influenced me with their strong martial spirit and strong sense of honor.
Martialforce.com: Can you tell our reader what a typical day of training was like back when you were Training towards your Black Belt?
HALBERT J. LEE: A typical day of training meant a lot of hard, rigorous work: blood, sweat and tears. You grew to love it.
Martialforce.com: What was the basic routine like during your Training?
HALBERT J. LEE: We worked Horse Stance, Front Stance and Falling Stance for approximately 45 minutes per stance. We also tried to put out a candle using our kicks and punches.
Through the Years knowing you, I have watched you enter the Martial Arts competition Arena, Why, When and Who did you fight? What was tournament competition like when you were first introduced?
HALBERT J. LEE:I was a teenager when I first began competing in the martial arts arena. I did this to test my skills and to meet fellow martial artists. Back in my day, there were no kid Black Belt divisions. My friends and I fought who ever was standing next to us. During the early days of Tournaments, Safety equipment did not exist. What we considered safety equipment was simply a piece of tape wrapped around your wrist. You also had to be in shape because you literally took your life in your hands. Since there were very few teenage Black Belts, you always fought adult Black Belts.
Martialforce.com: I have witnessed some of your Karate competitions throughout the years, can you tell our readers who were some of the noted Martial Artists you had to compete against?
HALBERT J. LEE:Throughout the years I have competed against Earl Woodbury, Haisan Kaleak, George Crayton, Jr., Ernest Hyman, Eugene Floyd, Derrick Williams, Felix Vasquez and a number of others. Some of the toughest competitors were Earl Woodbury, Haisan Kaleak, George Crayton, Jr., Ernest Hyman and Derrick Williams, “Their sheer skill, dedication and pure honor to their craft made them challenging competitors”.
Martialforce.com: Could you tell us about the Toughest competition facing you during that time? What made them tough?
HALBERT J. LEE: All of the above. Their sheer skill, dedication and pure honor to their craft made them challenging competitors. Being a Kung Fu competitor at a predominantly Karate tournament was very challenging. Competitors were challenged because very few judges, during that time, understood how to judge Kung Fu.
Martialforce.com: Being from the "Old" School we train Kata and bring it to Kumite. With that in mind, please share with our readers you thoughts about being a Complete Karateka?
HALBERT J. LEE:A complete martial artist is one who can use their kata for self defense as well as for fighting. They need to also have a complete understanding of how to move. "Kata is the Essence of Karate. It contains Many Secrets", This phrase has become a Cliche.
Martialforce.com: Do you believe the practice of Kata is useful and important?
HALBERT J. LEE:I feel that Kata is the foundation to everything. Kata also links us to all those martial arts that came before us. It's truly our encyclopedia to the martial arts. Without Kata, there is no martial arts. When I teach my students, I always tell them to train hard in their Katas because someone paid the ultimate price to learn the techniques that they are doing.
Martialforce.com: Why should a Martial Artist pay attention to Kata?
HALBERT J. LEE:The Martial Artist must always keep in mind that Kata was born on the battlefield. In every Kata performed, whether it is empty hand or weapons, it should be done as if it is an actual fight for your life.
Martialforce.com: What is your Most Favorite Kata? What makes it so Special?
HALBERT J. LEE:My most favorite Kata is Divine Buddha's Hand. This is one of the last Katas in my own system of Fung Ye Shie. Because of the subtle changes in this form (from hard to soft) and fast rapid movements of explosive power, I consider this one of my favorite Kata.
Having witnessed your extraordinary performances in Weapon Kata Competitions, I would like to ask: When did you start training in Weapons?
I started training weapons at 11 years old -- when I was an under belt. I have used the Bo, three-sectioned staff, Tai Chi Chinese straight sword, Monk Sun Moon staff and Broadsword.
Martialforce.com: What are some of the Weapons you have mastered?
HALBERT J. LEE:I wouldn't say that I have mastered weapons, because like all forms of martial arts, even weaponry is a work in progress.
Martialforce.com: What is your favorite?
HALBERT J. LEE:My favorite weapon is the Bo. It is my favorite because you can always find one in the street.
Martialforce.com: What is your favorite Chinese Traditional Weapon?
HALBERT J. LEE:My favorite Chinese Traditional weapons are: Tiger Fork, Kwandao and Twin Broadswords.
Martialforce.com: Do you Teach Weapons? At what Stage or when are students taught Weapons?
HALBERT J. LEE:I do teach weapons. Depending on the students’ development, I normally wait one to two years before I begin teaching the “basics of weaponry”.
Martialforce.com: Are you presently training others in the Art of Self Defense? When did you make the transition, and why?
HALBERT J. LEE:I am currently training students in martial arts and Self Defense. I started teaching in my teens. I did this to help others protect themselves and also to further the martial arts.
Martialforce.com: What do you teach those who want to learn Survival Skills?
HALBERT J. LEE:The first thing I teach for survival is that all things in life can be replaced except yourself. I teach my students to strike hard and fast and run faster! In other words, do not stay around to admire your own work. We have a saying in my class: Everyone has "boz" - which means where there is one, there will be more....so don't stay and wait around.
Martialforce.com: What is your view of the present Evolution of the Martial Arts and Tournament Competition of the present and compare to the past?
HALBERT J. LEE:Today, they call the martial arts "Sports Martial Arts". That is like trying to declaw a tiger and defang a tiger and still call it a predator. A tiger without all of its weaponry is just a pet. The martial arts is a killing art. It is not a sport and was never designed to be a sport. That is the true difference between the old martial arts and the so-called "Sports Martial Arts". In tournaments of the past, it took great skills to be true martial artists. A Black Belt could stop a full force blow within one-quarter of an inch to his opponent's face. They knew how to focus their technique anywhere on their opponent's body. Their strikes were strong--unlike today's martial artists--where it seems like they are playing tag. Also, today it appears that they are highly skilled at throwing a bunch of techniques and hoping something lands on their opponent...instead of having the skill to make something happen and put the technique exactly where they want it. The bottom line is: What you practice is what you do in the street. So if you are practicing playing "tag" and hitting your opponent lightly, that is exactly what you are going to do. Let's remember: The martial arts is designed to save your life!
Martialforce.com: I have known you for many years and watched you while attending competitions. Can you tell us about your relationship with some of the Grand Masters of the Past and Present? Training with any of them?
HALBERT J. LEE:One of the Grand Masters that I had the honor of training and becoming good friends with is, the late, T. Taylor. He had such a humble spirit and always made me feel comfortable around him. A favorite memory that I had as a young Black Belt was when I was sitting with my friends Carl, Craig and Norman. We were at Sensei Kenneth Buckley's dojo when Grand Master Abdul Mussawir came and sat to chat with us. He was one of our heroes who took the time to sit and speak with us. I never forgot that day.
Martialforce.com: Do you feel that Martial Arts played an important role with Who you are today?
HALBERT J. LEE:I feel that Martial Arts, above all things, has shaped and molded my personality and made me the person that I am today.
Martialforce.com: What have you gained from your practice of Martial Arts?
HALBERT J. LEE:My martial arts training has helped me to stay on task with my goals. This training allows me to be focused on the things that I need to do and gives me the spirit to never give up.
Martialforce.com: How have the Martial Arts training help you achieve Goals?
HALBERT J. LEE:While practicing Martial Arts, I have gained many things such as self confidence and of great importance: respect for others. I have also acquired numerous martial artist friends.
Martialforce.com: Do you believe The Martial Arts training would be beneficial for any youngster or adult? How would Martial Arts training benefit them?
HALBERT J. LEE:I do believe that the martial arts is beneficial for any child and adult. This is especially beneficial for young girls and adult women. The martial arts will give them the ability to protect themselves. It will also give them confidence and greater self esteem. As you train someone, you are teaching them the most important thing they will ever learn in their life---that is to save their life! At the same time, you are giving them life skills. This is the instructor's duty.
Martialforce.com: What are your thoughts on cross training in regards to other styles of Martial Arts?
HALBERT J. LEE: My thoughts on cross training is that it can be beneficial. But as a beginner, it may be confusing. Perhaps one should wait until they reach "rank" in one system before going to the next. However, this does not mean that you should not have a group of friends in other systems that you can get together with from time to time to exchange techniques. This would lead to a better understanding of each others styles.
Martialforce.com: What other Martial Arts Styles, if any, have you trained in?
HALBERT J. LEE:Some of the styles that I have trained in are Iaido, Shotokan, Aikido, Drunken Fist/Zui Quan, Praying Mantis, Eagle Claw and Tiger Claw and Long Fist/Chang Quan.
Martialforce.com: Have you trained with Family members, and/ or any family members?
HALBERT J. LEE:I trained with my Uncle Calvin when I was a child. I also trained with one of my family members, George--who is my first Black Belt.
Martialforce.com: Who do you feel was your biggest influence in Karate or life in general and why?
HALBERT J. LEE: Lu Yung Jr. was my biggest influence in martial arts. He gave me the life skills to survive. His impact was great because I gained confidence and skills to create my own martial arts system.
Martialforce.com: What are your Thoughts on Tradition Karate? Do you think Tradition is important? Having a Legacy?
HALBERT J. LEE: Tradition is important as in doing it the way we were taught, and teach it the same. But we must be aware of Evolution. For example, if you are learned a Kata, as soon as the Kata left the founder's hands, it changed slightly. This happens because no two people move the same but that is the nature of Kata to Evolve. The martial arts is all about evolution. If it stays the same, it will become sterile and die out. This is why we have so many different systems. The greater the pool, the more we can learn from. Having a martial arts legacy is very important. One should know who and where they came from. It helps keep us focused and teaches us to respect others. WITHOUT THE PAST, THERE IS NO FUTURE!
Martialforce.com: What are your thoughts of Evolution in The Martial Arts?
HALBERT J. LEE:As explained before, everything changes. As soon as the Originators taught students, the System changed. Techniques are modified to fit each individual, so no two would perform the same Kata or fighting technique exactly the same. It is my philosophy that, If The Martial Arts were to have remained Original- If it stays the same- it would have become sterile and died out!
Martialforce.com: What do you think about Rank in Martial Arts, and the present practice of fast and advanced promotions? Do you believe youngsters (12-20 Yrs.) could/ should be holders of Rank above Sandan? Why?
HALBERT J. LEE: Honestly, I think rank is given too fast and too easy these days. When you first become a Black Belt, you should learn how to become a Black Belt before going to the next rank. If your total focus is on gaining rank and not acquiring knowledge and skill, then all the rank that you hold will be meaningless. There was a time that you had to be a certain age to have a certain rank. Today, it seems, it is all about promoting your students faster and higher--not to the students' benefit. It is more about making the school look good and bringing in more revenue. That is why you have young Black Belts of high rank who don't have the skills and discipline to represent the rank they have wrapped around their waist. There are students that do Kata far above their rank and this weakens the martial arts. If you do not master yourself, how can you master your rank? Mastering yourself comes with time.
My greatest achievement is the friends that I have developed in the martial arts community as well as my family.
Martialforce.com: What would you say is your greatest achievement?
HALBERT J. LEE: As far as Martial Arts goes, my greatest achievements are the quality Black Belts that I have trained and the founding of my own system of Kung Fu. My style is Fung Ye Shie. I don’t want to forget to mention that the friends that I have developed in the Martial Arts community and my family have also contributed to, and are a great part of, my success and achievements.
Martialforce.com: What are your Long Tem Goals?
HALBERT J. LEE:My long term martial arts goals are to turn out quality martial artists that have a strong mind, body and spirit. I also want them to treat everyone with respect.
Martialforce.com: Are you involved with any Martial Arts Association?
HALBERT J. LEE:I am not involved in any Martial Arts Association.
Martialforce.com: Do you continue to train and teach and if so, where is your school located?
HALBERT J. LEE:Yes, I am still training and teaching. I am currently at THE CHILDREN'S AID SOCIETY, DUNLEVY MILBANK CENTER ADDRESS: 14-32 WEST 118TH STREET, NEW YORK, N.Y. 10026.
Martialforce.com: What would you share with other Martial Artists, especially younger Martial Artists?
HALBERT J. LEE:The thing that I would share with other Martial Arts is that you should train hard and always respect others. There is a saying in Kung Fu: "Through hard work, comes excellence". Also, they need to seek out the past.
Martialforce.com: On behalf of MARTIALFORCE.COM Online Martial Arts Magazine, Personally, and on behalf of all our loyal readers, I would like to thank Grand Master Halbert J. Lee for his gracious participation and sharing of his life and Martial Arts experiences with us.
HALBERT J. LEE:I thank you, franklin, and Martialforce.com Magazine for allowing me to humbly, contribute further to the martial arts in sharing my experiences and views with one and all.