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

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Marilyn Cooper's Bio
I was born in 1949 in Detroit, Michigan. I was raised by an athletic, young father and was a "tomboy," always running races, playing ball and fighting with boys. I left high school early to enter art college. I have been trying to be an artist my whole life, but often my kung fu training has taken precedence. It has been my personal juggling act
since I was 16.

I began training kung fu at age 16 in Santa Monica, at which time my main motive was to learn how to defend myself. I trained for one year under Bob Cook. I traded my tuition for painting the school motif on its pillars – a tiger and a crane. Larry Johnson was my training partner and roommate. In those days, I would do anything to become
stronger – run on the beach to get to class and swim back, a few miles each way, from Marina del Ray to Santa Monica and back. I worked as a laborer digging ditches and loading trucks to keep building strength.
After a year, I moved to San Francisco to train with "real Chinese masters." I lived in a rooming house in Chinatown and trained at three kung fu schools simultaneously, going to Kuo Sifu at dawn, mainly sleeping through my art classes at SFAI during the day, and attending class at either YC Wong's or Brendan Lai's in the evening. Contrary to what one would imagine, rather than banish me for infidelity, the two younger teachers would ask me to perform what I was learning from the others. Only Sifu was not interested.

After a year of chasing the ultimate kung fu style (I loved the power of hung gar, the speed of preying mantis and the range of motion of Northern Shaolin), I narrowed down to Kuo Sifu, mainly because he was by far the most cryptic and charismatic teacher … and he was open from pre-dawn till bedtime, every day of the week. Bing would keep me on track with morning practice, often after I was up most of the night jumping over the furniture in the kitchen trying out techniques from other styles with a training buddy.

After all the years of "bitter practice," beyond the forms, and the discipline and spirit of training, I am left with the feeling that
Sifu genuinely loved and cared about us. Back in the 60s, I used to go on solo camping trips to Big Sur, to try to escape the busy-ness of SF and train in nature. With a backpack and sleeping bag in tow, when I would tell him I would be back to morning practice in a few weeks, Sifu, like a worried dad, would try to press a few dollars into my palm.

When I moved back east to NYC in 1974, I went to Sifu to say goodby and ask him if he knew of a teacher for me back there. I remember looking into his face and thinking it might be the last time I would ever see him. He told me about his student Peter Kwok in New Jersey, and even called Peter to tell him I was coming.

Over the years, kung fu training became a profession for me. I had spent so much time practicing forms that there was little else I was trained to do. (My training history is on my website: www. littleriverwest.com). Without that early role model of Sifu, his outrageously high spirits and fearless individuality, and his utter devotion to daily practice, I am sure this path would've been
impossible for me.

I still love teaching – from my little group of five year olds -- "Shaolin mini-monks," to my fabulously fit students in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Creating a network of courageous self-healers remains one of the most rewarding and fun things I do. Sifu was the vital link between a noble lineage of old China to us in mid-century America, and I feel honored to share his spirit and knowledge.

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