A site honoring the teachings of Kuo Lien Ying and the magical time that we were able to learn from Si Fu

Portsmouth Square 1965-1985

Roger Leo's Biography
My name is Roger Leo. Born 1951 and raised in San Francisco. Our family name is actually Lyau according to wade-giles, but changed to Leo as part of the immigration process. Everyone thinks I'm Italian until they meet me. My Grandmother  was the 1st Chinese woman born in San Rafael, CA. My Grandfather was a herbalist treating mainly a Caucasian clientele in Portland, Oregon before the 1920's. He died in the Influenza Epidemic of the 1920's. My father, in his teens was sent to China to study in the period of the Great Depression since the american dollar held such sway in China. He studied with his brother at Pui Chin Middle School in Guanzhou (Canton). Part of his education was learning Chinese martial arts under the tutelage of a famous master whose name he couldn't remember. However his style was called Yellow River Boxing and his signature technique was head butting. This teacher wore a white head band over his upper forehead. My father said that when he walked down the street, he looked like he was flying. These stories were the beginning of my lifelong fascination with Gung Fu. Men and women with seemingly magical powers and the ability to neutralize any situation.

Growing up in San Francisco in the 50's, it was not unusual to encounter discrimination against the Chinese.
For some reason, my parents felt it was better to live away from the Chinese community and they bought a house in the Excelsior district close to Mission St. Something about segregation sets up minority groups against one another. You would think it was just the opposite. By the time I left elementary school, I had fought virtually every boy in my class. The interesting thing about fighting as a little kid is that I only won because my capacity to deal with pain was greater than the other kid. My Dad grew up fighting against white kids ambushing him and his brother as they walked to and from school. Based on his experience, my father looked around for martial arts classes for my brother and I. I wanted to study karate, but we couldn't find a school that would accept us. We became probably 2 of hundreds of kids passing thru the dojo of the Judo Institute on 18th and Mission. There was an old sensei who was in charge to teaching us kids. He was really good to me and took the time to break down the moves. The favorite thing he taught us was a simple reverse wrist throw. I always wanted to learn what the big guys did which was to be able to choke a person out in 20-30 seconds. Never did get to learn that. I never used judo in fights at school. For some reason, I thought of it as cheating even though it would have been easy to throw the guys I would get in fights with. Probably the scariest incident to happen was when I was walking home from school and 4 older guys started to harass me. I thought that this was going to be bad and I got ready for the fight of my short life. A woman from the neighboring house picked up on what was happening and shouted "Get away! You leave that boy alone." And they took off. To this day, I thank that anonymous neighbor woman who probably saved me from a lot of pain. After elementary school, we moved to the Parkside District and I didn't have to fight anymore.

Discovering Tai Chi
In my early twenties around 1970, I went to College of Marin. It was there that I saw Tai Chi for the first time.
There was a demonstration by N.Y. Hsu, a tall Chinese gentlemen about 70 years old from Mainland China who had learned Tai Chi in Nanking. I remember the coordinator who enlisted Mr. Hsu telling me that he originally approached her to teach chinese and that she asked him if he knew Tai Chi. He said, "I love to play." Mr. Hsu's form was the long 108 Yang style. His form wasn't very good, but the spirit of what he imparted was beautiful. He said when practicing it wasn't necessary to finish the move, but rather it was more important to finish the intent. When I later learned that Tai Chi was a martial art, I wanted to find a teacher who could take me further.

I began taking classes from Choy Kam Man at the Chinatown YMCA in SF in 1973. Master Choy was the son of Choy Hok Ping (1886-1957), who reputably was the 1st to teach Tai Chi in the US and was a student of Yang Cheng Fu. It was the 77th class that Master Choy taught. Master Choy liked to launch punches at my face when he demonstrated the difference between external and internal systems. When Master Choy did Tai Chi his small finger would twitch as if pulsing with chi. His method of teaching was very precise. There was no ambiguity about correct posture. About the 2nd month into the form he asked if anyone felt any distinctly different feelings while they were practicing. No one volunteered any information. It was thru one of my classmates that I heard about an old master who taught shaolin at Portsmouth Square early in the morning. I decided to ask Master Choy if it was ok if I studied Shaolin from another teacher before checking out the old man at Portsmouth Square. Master Choy said that it was fine to practice shaolin. It was good to learn both systems. The only provision he gave is that one should practice the Tai Chi after doing the shaolin. Always practice Tai Chi last.

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