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Lee Kam Wing: “Selling Tradition”

It is now nearly twenty-five years since I began my training with my first teacher Lee Kam Wing and nearly sixteen years since I left his school for the last time. Sixteen years. During the years since I left I have heard many stories and opinions about myself and my time at Lee Kam Wing's school. Most of these stories come from people who hadn't joined Lee Kam Wing, or sometimes hadn't even started training kung fu, by the time I'd left there as an inheritor of the school system.

Now I have settled with my new school in Shanghai and have studied with Master Koh Kim Kok (Singapore) in our Lin Bo Yan lineage. It is time to make my statement of facts in this story. I will only make statements of fact and actual events. I have two intentions: to tell the basic facts about my time with Lee Kam Wing and to expose the nature of the empire he has built since that time.

For this story we don't have to talk about respect, manners, negativity or personal attacks. I am just presenting the events as they happened and the related issues. If any reader thinks that the events presented here are untrue or didn't happen – you can state this clearly, if you are certain, then we can see the photographic evidence and the documents that are hand signed by the persons involved.

The past can not be changed and it is my right to tell my story.

Kai Uwe Pel - “Traitor”

Shanghai, China - December 15, 2004.

As a teenager desperate to learn Chinese Kung Fu I wrote letters to many Chinese Martial Arts schools in Hong Kong. It was the end of the 1970's and the Chinese mainland was not yet open to the general public. From the many letters and enquiries I sent out only one was replied to. I had my personal letter written by Lee Kam Wing himself and we set a date for me to go over to Hong Kong for study in 1980.

Master Lee Kam Wing instructed his student Kai Uwe Pel

When I began it was a simple style traditional school. There was a large system to learn and we just went about our training. There were no belts or ranks, only teacher and student. We referred to each other using the traditional family way: kung fu brothers and sisters called by the correct Cantonese terms. Our 'Sigung' Chiu Chi Man had retired from teaching in 1976 and from his students that had stayed in Hong Kong it was Lee Kam Wing who had the resources to open a school (Open from 1972).

In 1983 I had become the standout student in the school and I was allowed to make the ritual of 'Baishi' to my teacher. This means that I was accepted as an advanced student and close follower of my teacher. It was earned after 3 years of training and achievement. After this I continued working to master the system and prove my worth. The next year, 1984, I took Lee Kam Wing to my home country of Germany for the first time.

Then, in 1985, I saw the first early signs of what we can call 'the beginning of the end' – even though it was still four years away.

HONG KONG CHIN WOO ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION - Honour Celebration to Kai Uwe Pel Sifu - 1985

In 1985 I was in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year and training - I was taken for my first visit to see my Sigung Chiu Chi Man. After the first meeting I went back many times as his private guest, without my teacher to accompany me. His son translated during those visits. Master Chiu Chi Man accepted me and was eager to tell me more about our kung fu family. That was when I heard of his students Raymond Ly Ming Loy and Chiu Luen for the first time. He showed me many pictures of his students and I saw a picture of a young Chiu Luen standing behind his teacher. Chiu Luen was bare chested wearing the traditional studded belt and armbands and looked very strong and proud. Master Chiu Chi Man advised me to visit him in the USA and also to see Raymond Ly, “one of the best”, while I was there.

Grandmaster Chiu Luen and Master Kai Uwe Pel in New York Chinatown

I took the advice and got a ticket to New York City. I was excited to meet these great masters who were the top students in our own family. But this is where the trouble started. To my surprise, Lee Kam Wing was angry and hostile about the upcoming visits. He did not want me to see other members within our family. Later he would forbid such visits completely.

By the end of 1985 I made my first visit to New York and got a chance to meet both Chiu Luen and Raymond Ly. It was educational and I saw a lot of things that made me think. I noticed that there were many differences even within our own close family – not only in the amount of forms and knowledge but in the general execution of techniques too. The most obvious was that only Lee Kam Wing used his trademark mantis fist with the fingers curled under.

This led me to start to notice many things. For example, the hand written and signed forms list given to me by my teacher had not included any third 'Zhai Yao' form. But the other schools had it and later, in 1987, he suddenly started teaching it having never left anywhere for extra training. The form we then learned seemed like the style of other schools from the Wong Hon Fun family. Also, In 1986 we had established our business in my hometown back in Germany – and he suddenly came to me with a complete plan for a 'belt system' that included examinations – and payments. This was unheard of in his organization before that time.

Despite all of this, especially the angry refusal of any more visits, I was committed to becoming a master and I respected my teacher. I continued to train and in 1988 I graduated as the inheritor of the complete system. This can be easily checked in two places without even looking at my own hand signed certificates. There is a 'Generation Board' that lists every single form in the system, in the Hong Kong Chin Woo, and the inheritor from each generation. My name is carved into the 8th line. Also, in the first edition of Lee Kam Wing's book on Mantis Boxing there are numerous photos of myself and a lineage page that states I am the inheritor.

Book: THE SECRET OF SEVEN-STAR MANTIS STYLE - by Lee Kam Wing (First Edition, November 1985)

HONG KONG CHIN WOO ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION - Official generation board of the 7-Star Mantis Style (1987)

During recent years I had often accompanied Lee Kam Wing on trips to other schools. During these trips I had met many mantis teachers and students. I had been especially impressed with the schools in Malaysia and Singapore. I told Lee Kam Wing that I planned to visit them for training and exchange within our Luo Guang Yu Seven Star System. As before with even his own kung fu brothers, this was impossible for him. He didn't allow me to go – If I went, I would be kicked out of his school forever. He was very bitter and angry when telling me this as if our close relationship of the past years meant nothing to him.

I made my own decision and quit the group in February 1989.

Grandmaster Lee Kam Wing and Master Kai Uwe Pel (Hongkong Chin Woo Athletic Association - 1987)

Then begins the sad and strange chapter in the story. I found a great teacher in Singapore, Koh Kim Kok, and discovered the lineage of Lin Bo Yan – an advanced student of Luo Guang Yu from the original Shanghai Chin Woo. I was excited again to get the chance to learn something new and increase my mastery of our system. However, when I announced the change to my students in Germany it did not go over well. Many of them were reaching an advanced level and had their own dreams of teaching in their home towns – dreams that required the credibility of Lee Kam Wing from Hong Kong and not of a little known teacher in Singapore.

Grandmaster Koh Kim Kok (Singapore, 1992)

To my surprise, Lee Kam Wing took full advantage of this situation to create the model for his new international empire. The students could join him themselves and become teachers for him in Germany. It just required payment. Big payment. The new teachers could train in two-week seminars and learn all the remaining forms they needed for teaching. Then they were granted permission to teach and the belt system was adopted including different levels of teacher for example “Chief Instructor”. Lee Kam Wing got the money, and they got the credentials they needed to open a school.

Once this network had spread around a few countries he began to actively tell his clan that I had never graduated as an inheritor and that I was a normal student who was 'kicked-out' for disrespectful behaviour. I got my new nickname “Traitor”. Of course, any of my photographs, certificates or a quick look at his own book could let anyone see that he was telling lies! So, he instructed his German representative to make court action against me to give back all my photographs, certificates and books that he had given me. I couldn't believe it. Of course, there was no legal ground or true reason for this so they lost in court and I kept all my materials. The lies are told still to this day, without a hint of shame.

Even stranger still is the degree to which his new followers blindly took his word for it despite the glaring facts and evidence. I suppose they can not imagine that their respected teacher is lying directly to them. To this day Derek Frearson of the UK keeps a letter from Lee Kam Wing published on his website stating these lies that I was kicked out and it even states that the court action will begin to get back my materials. That court action was decided more than 10 years ago and the letter on Freason's site is in contempt of the decision. Didn't he ever think to ask about the results? The man has never even met me!

These days Lee Kam Wing's international system has become so mean and unthinking that it makes a mockery of kung fu traditions and the students he should be caring about. If you pay the money you can jump over, and forget about, your teacher in an instant. There are several interesting examples of this. In Germany, Holger Heek was one of my best students and Lee Kam Wing his Sigung. Two of Heek's students, Nicolai Schild and Jochen Wolfgramm, have since paid to be 'Chief Instructors' and call Lee Kam Wing their Sifu. It should be 'Daai Si Gung' under myself and Heek! Brunke Bast, student of my student Heiko Klisch visited Hong Kong for the first time and came back as 'master' after a 2-week seminar also. Lee Kam Wing simply doesn't care who is representing him as long as the money comes in – this is far away from masters like Luo Guang Yu who we all look up to.

Italian Chief Instructor Angelo D'Aria was in the organization for more than 8 years. He made a business contract with Lee Kam Wing to be the sole representative of the style in Italy. All students had to be trained and graduated under Angelo D'Aria. One day, two students who had recently attended Angelo's seminars – Sergio Marzicchi and Pierluigi Barbieri - saw the Hong Kong school address in a magazine article and went to visit Lee Kam Wing behind his back. When they arrived Lee Kam Wing was happy to accept them and happy to accept their money! He let them do a seminar, pay up and become Instructors on the same level as Angelo D'Aria. This was all done behind his back – despite an agreement that D'Aria should be the sole representative for Italy and new teachers had to be graduated under him! In a later meeting with myself, Angelo revealed to me that he was told he would be kicked out of the organisation if he visited me for any reason! He confessed that the incident with the students had humiliated him. When Lee kam Wing casually announced the two new Chief Instructors to Angelo and Angelo asked about the contract, Lee Kam Wing just said “well, it's invalid now”.

Master Kai Uwe Pel (Luo Guang Yu lineage) and Master Angelo D'Aria (Lin Jing Shan lineage) in Shanghai

It seems that you don't have to work to be a teacher these days. Sifu and Sigung are titles that can be bought by anyone currently training who has enough money. Selling titles and promoting students above their teachers behind their backs is insulting. Insulting to our traditions and old masters – and insulting to all of us who had to work hard for what we have.

The bottom line is that Lee Kam Wing only cares about getting the pay off. The worst thing about this kind of organisation is that it betrays the students. Teachers can teach after a 2-week seminar or an 8-week course for 'higher masters'. It's impossible. The quality of teachers is low and it shows the most in their own students. The next generation are wasting years of training only to later see they have nothing. Even in Germany, some of the students who left me for Lee Kam Wing have already left themselves after the same thing happened with their own students.

It saddens me to see this change. It's so different from when I was a student under Lee Kam Wing in the early 80's. But, as time went by I saw that within in our family he was only a middle level master who tried to hide the fact by forbidding me to visit his kung fu brothers. Then he started his empire of money and dirty tricks, trying to protect that by preventing his new followers contacting me, poisoning their minds with lies about me and trying, unsuccessfully, to take back the evidence through legal action. Foremost, a teacher should take responsibility for his student's education but Lee Kam Wing doesn't seem to care what his student's kung fu looks like, as long as they pay. It's shameful.

All members of Lee Kam Wing's organisation should know now: Lee Kam Wing is one teacher of Mantis Boxing among many, an average level teacher who has succeeded at exploiting foreign interest in Chinese Kung Fu. It was not always that way, I am proof of that and that's why I'm demonized in his clan. My door is always open here in Shanghai for anyone who wants to see me about this or anything. But please, as teachers – take responsibility for your student's education not only for their money.

Our traditions can't be sold – they must be earned. Ironically, I learned a Chinese saying about what Lee Kam Wing is doing from the man himself during my training time there:

“Gua Yang Tou, Mai Gou Rou”

Kai Uwe Pel

Shanghai – December 15, 2004

"Lee Kam Wing - Selling Tradition Additional Material"

During the time after I left Lee Kam Wing's organisation I still respected my first teacher. In fact, in April 1998 I took my students to a seminar by Lee Kam Wing to let them see him for themselves. Before going I wrote directly to Lee Kam Wing dealing with the bad feeling from when I left, assuming that we might not be welcome. He accepted my letter and we attended the seminar.

This was not going to be included in our statement for lack of evidence but we must thank Sifu Jochen Wolfgramm and Sifu Brunke Bast, who have helped us by finding an original copy of that chinese letter - and making it available in English, and German.

You can download the PDF format here:

This is not related to claims that I was not the inheritor and such matters and the letter does not cover that. It's another chapter in the story which you have read in the first statement.

Merry Christmas to all our Martial Art friends!

Kai Uwe Pel

Shanghai - December 22, 2004


Mantis Book


by Kai Uwe Pel, 230 pages

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7-Star Mantis Schools
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