There I was working in the restaurant business, which is code for “dishwasher,” when I was 14 years old. I already had a year of experience and was making a “lateral movement” from one restaurant to another during the summer tourist season in Penticton. My new employer’s were originally from Hong Kong and were big Bruce Lee fans. One of the partners invited the kitchen crew to hang out after work and watch Bruce Lee movies. I thoughtfully asked, “who’s Bruce Lee?” Please remember this was 1979/80. The laughter and ridicule eventually ended and thankfully I was still allowed to attend.
5 am rolled around and we were 3 or 4 movies in, my thumb firmly placed on the remote to rewind over and over. Not as easy with a VCR, but it gives you time to reflect on what you just saw. The crew was asleep but there I was greatly anticipating the next scene and the next movie. I had been playing sports my whole life, watched great athletes and even a Chuck Norris movie but there was something much different about Bruce.
Feeling very inspired I started to research Bruce Lee. This proved very difficult living in a small town before the internet. I caught a lucky break when our band trip was scheduled for Toronto and I bought up every magazine I could find about Bruce. I still have everything from that trip, even the large black silkscreen of Bruce hanging at Great Way. My research of Bruce led me to Wing Chun which led me to Kung Fu and the Shaolin Temple. I continued my research reading everything I could about Kung Fu.
While I was researching I started to teach myself Kung fu with some guidance from my employer. Some of my most memorable training sessions were between busy times at the restaurant. Out in the back was my Dojo, stacked up plastic dairy crates were my kicking bag and anything moving or stationary including cherry tomato crates were a great target to throw a punch close to or into. My training sessions wrapped up almost every night with a run along Okanagan beach and stretching routine. Stretching each night was incredibly helpful as I was not very flexible, great stretching technique was not common among gym teachers or coaches back then. I was attempting stretching routines from studying Shaolin Monks, you know, for novices like me.
I learned a lot about Kung Fu, its history and philosophy before ever being able to take a formal lesson in an actual Kung Fu school. Conflict, war, and competitiveness are very common among martial arts styles and their origin stories but Kung Fu was different. Kung Fu translates to “skill achieved through hard work and practice.” We have shortened the translation and you can hear it being cheered out at the beginning of every class,” hard work, well done!”
I believe that is the main reason Great Way is different. Our guiding mission “to joyfully inspire the mental and physical well-being of our community” came from a love and passion for Kung Fu and it’s main purpose of self-improvement. Kung Fu is all about practice and we do not practice for the sole purpose of preparing for conflict. We practice for self-improvement through challenge. We practice for fun, inspiration, joy and to release negativity. We practice for many reasons but none of them with the intent to harm or “beat” others for personal gain.
I have been asked many times “have you ever had to use your Kung Fu,” and my reply has always been “yes, every day.”
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Sifu James Heinrich