These are just some of my reflections on what I observed and learned of Sifu Barry Lee while training in his Ving Tsun school, the Barry Lee Ving Tsun Martial Arts Academy. There are some great articles about Barry and some written by Barry which may be found on his school’s website, which can be found via the Links tab on this website. Although I call him Sifu Barry Lee here, he is actually a rare true Master of the Ving Tsun system as trained and certified by Wong Shun Leung.
Barry Lee has the presence of a man who has done it all.
His knowledge is thorough to the point of being a total understanding of the Ving Tsun system.
This knowledge was very hard won. With Ving Tsun as with most things, you get out of it what you put into it.
What Barry put into his Ving Tsun training was so extreme it is difficult to even relate to.
Barry went to Hong Kong in 1972 specifically to train with Wong Shun Leung. He trained there initially for 18 months, training 12-17 hours a day, 6 days a week. The first 3 months of his training was learning and developing the Siu Lim Tao form, and he would be in stance for 12 hours a day in 3-4 hour blocks throughout this time. As I understand it there was also some wall bag work during this time. Barry said of this type of stance training that those who have done it will walk through those who have not. This was his way of encouraging us to take up this practice. When we do manage to be able to stand in stance for 3 and 4 hours, it is extremely difficult to face doing it again the next day. To do what Barry did, 3-4 hours in stance 3 times a day is not only incomprehensible to me, it is a horrifying prospect.
When it came to the dummy work, Barry would be there practicing what he had been shown, again and again, all day.
Barry participated in challenge fights from early on in his training. When he didn’t win a fight, he would continue with his rigorous training and then challenge the opponent again, this time to win. These were not teenagers beginning in martial arts, but serious masters of other systems. Nor were they sparring sessions, but full contact fights with no gloves or other protective equipment.
Wong Shun Leung would also organise fights for Barry.
When Barry got into chi sau work, he would train with one partner after another, wearing each one out and often not even stopping for a drink between training partners. They named him The Machine for the way he kept going like this all day.
Through the extremes of his training, and the fight experiences he had, Barry became a very dangerous man to challenge.
Barry returned to Australia for a few years to raise money for his next visit to Hong Kong to further his training. I hesitate to say complete his training, because as we know, Ving Tsun training is never complete, and Barry did continue to work with WSL until his sifu’s untimely passing in 1997, and would have continued to do so if things hadn’t gone the way they did. While Barry was working in Australia, he trained 5 hours a day, maintaining and developing his Ving Tsun in readiness for the next phase.
Barry returned to WSL in 1976 for a further 6 months, again training 12-15 hours a day, 6 days a week and with the same total dedication to the work. During this time, especially towards the end of it, Barry faced some extreme challenges that included fights where he was defending his life against armed opponents. My understanding is that the kung fu community in Hong Kong at the time was for the most part very displeased that there was to be a full fledged master of European descent taking this kung fu system to the west. It doesn’t seem long ago but they were different times and hard to relate to now. Anyway, the word was out to stop Barry at all costs, and he had to fight often and hard not just to develop his fighting skill and Ving Tsun understanding, but to survive.
Wong Shun Leung said that Barry’s life and training in Hong Kong would make a great movie, and I think many would agree!
WSL also said that Barry Lee was his best fighter, with the special understanding, that when he hits you, you go down and you don’t get up.
Wong Shun Leung did a teaching tour of Europe and said that there was a lot of work to be done there, and that Barry Lee was the man for the job. When Wong Shun Leung passed away, Barry moved to Germany to do what his sifu had wished. After Barry had been there for 8 or 9 years, I would see statements by European Ving Tsun practitioners on the open forum such as ‘If you haven’t trained with Barry Lee yet, you need to do so, for he is the way we need to go now.’ It is extremely unfortunate that this great sifu had a motorcycle accident in 2008 which cut short his great work in Europe, just as it was gaining momentum. Unfortunate for us all.
Training under some of Barry Lee’s senior students in Australia was an awesome experience, and provided me with an excellent grounding in Ving Tsun. Being an instructor in the Barry Lee Ving Tsun Martial Arts Academy was a great honour. Attending workshops and dinners with Barry was a great privilege. Barry’s workshops were usually advertised as 3 hour sessions, yet they invariably went for over 5 hours at least, and covered an immense amount of material. They would be an intense workout for the brain and the body! Sometimes I would be writing for hours afterwards to make note of all I could remember, and then often kept on training into the next day because it was so interesting.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have met and trained under the auspices of this great man, a true Ving Tsun living legend, Sifu Barry Lee. I do hope many more get this opportunity in future.