I have three rules...
I have asked sifu many times about his martial arts training and have been lucky enough to hear many stories. Some funny, some shocking, but all undoubtedly reflecting someone that has been bornwith martial arts engraved in their heart. I therefore wanted to share this short biography of Leon sifu. It certainly does not contain everything, but will hopefully provide you with a glimpse into how Leon became the sifu we all greatly respect. I have to note that sifu has never been concerned with telling anyone about his training, the numerous articles he has written or the behind the scenes work involved in promoting Lam family. He has always been truly humble in the skills and experience he has gained over many years and it has taken us a long time to convince our sifu to step out ofthe shadows, and this short article is that first step and first insight. He has many training stories that we believe are worth sharing and could not be featured here. We therefore have a feature that will appear in our monthly newsletter dedicated to it. Hope that you enjoy the read. Best wishes, Heather (senior student of Leon Dogan)
Sifu Leon Dogan has always had a deep passion for martial arts, and has devoted his time and effort to train that passion from a very young age. Sifu grew up in Turkey, in a city where martial arts training was limited at the time, and the opportunity just to walk into a school of your choice was absent. The two main combat orientated sports available were wrestling, the Turkish national sport, and Taekwondo, a sport which grew in the 60’s, and for which Turkey gained a good reputation for producing high quality competitors. Initially, sifu began to wrestle, as this was the only one out of the two available in the city he lived in.
In 1983, at the age of 10, a taekwondo school opened in the city, but unfortunately, like most things, classes had to be paid for and sifu did not have the money to do so. Like any 10 year old child, he turned to his parents and begged, pleaded, for the opportunity to go (every child would naturally die without it, right?), yet his parents stood firm and persisted they would not pay for lessons. Undeterred by this, Leon decided to find jobs to fund lessons and began selling pastries for commission from a bakery, rising at 4am to sell everything before school, and even shining shoes with friends after school to make enough money to go. When he finally had the money together he went back to his parents for permission to train. Impressed by his determination and will power to succeed, he was allowed to start Taekwondo, his first and certainly not his last taste of martial arts. His teachers were impressed, not just by his skill, but his mature attitude and dedication to training. What is still clear to this day and something I’m sure his teachers saw in him then, was a hunger to train/ learn driven straight from the heart. A strength/ quality I believe has shaped him into the great martial artist he is today.
Martial arts training has changed dramatically over time, but back then, your teacher was seen as an important figure in your life, a second parent if you will, trusted unconditionally to do the right thing by his students. As a result, training then was very different and extremely tough. Children were often paired with adults, learning immediately to deal with the strength of someone at least three times their weight and twice their size. Focus pads and kick shields were non-existent, so you became the kick shield or your hand became the focus mit. Leon sifu was taught the effectiveness of strikes and kicks through experiencing them himself. Hands-on teaching was paramount. At the time, classes were disciplined; the teachers at school had sticks, his taekwondo instructor had his hands and his feet to deal out punishment. Competitions between members were frequent; a fond memory of Leon sifu’swas the ‘circle of pain.’ Surrounded by five individuals (mostly adults), you had to defend yourself against all of them at once for a set period of time. This was full contact, no pads, no guards and no mercy. Cuts, bruises, excruciating pain and the occasional joint dislocation were all delightful parts of training in those days, but although this may sound brutal, the underlying lessons to be learnt were clear. It was not mindless. For sifu this training was invaluable and he learnt to work hard, to be disciplined, and to persevere regardless of what got thrown at him. Something that has never left sifu since.
He moved to the UK in his early teens, unsure whether he would like London, but excited for the ample opportunities that would be available to do other martial arts. He quickly immersed himself in that world, reading books and magazines and training all different types of martial arts, including Hung Gar. Every spare moment around his education was spent training. For many, martial arts is merely a hobby, but for sifu it became a lifestyle. He would train as much as he could and with as many different people he could find. This allowed him to practice what he knew and discover through that practice the effectiveness of what he had learnt. This is something that shows clearly through his teaching. Always challenging what you think you know and opening your eyes more and more to what Hung Gar has to offer. After spending a few years in London and following advice from his teacher, he pursued his learning/ training of Hung Gar further under Lam Family’s guidance in Hong Kong.
This was certainly not a straightforward or easy task. Leon worked several jobs and sold everything he had to make his first initial trip to Hong Kong. Armed only with a picture in a magazine, he set out to find Grandmaster Lam Cho’s school. Unable to speak the language, travelling school to school with no clue on where to go or who to talk to, at times completely disappointed and unsure what to do when people were unwilling to help and doors were slammed to his face, he finally found Grandmaster’s school through a friend he met in Hong Kong. This was a life changing moment for Leon sifu. He became part of Lam Family, training at Great Grandmaster Lam Cho’s legendary school, under the personal guidance of his sifu, Lam Chun Sing. After training for many years, Leon sifu knew he had found where he belonged and after travelling back and forth many times, he made the decision to move to Hong Kong to fully immerse himself in his training and dedicate his time to the practice of Hung Gar. He also pursued other interests, learning traditional lion dance and certain aspects of Chinese medicine. Leon sifu trained every day and was lucky to have the opportunity to still train at the school at times when most students could not. His training was intense, and he was fortunate enough to learn from different members of the Lam family and indeed has fond memories of all of them. Leon sifu was pushed to his limits and beyond. Phrases such as ‘lower,’ ‘faster,’ ‘again’ from Master Lam have not left him and are very familiar sounds used in his own school today. Master Lam continually challenged him and was extremely hands-on, readily showing applications/ techniques. Leon sifu was also extremely lucky, as despite Great Grandmaster Lam Cho officially being retired, he would still correct and help the students training at the school. He was a perfectionist and naturally demanded that perfection from everyone and Leon sifu was no exception. He often referred to Leon sifu as “Ying Gok Jai”(English boy) correcting/ helping him as he saw fit.
As a student, it was also important to him to help promote Lam family and help them as much as he could. Leon sifu has always remained selfless in that respect, doing all he can, writing articles, designing web sites, helping new students, often driving and participating in projects without wanting any acknowledgement or credit in return. A rare quality to be admired and perhaps one of the main reasons this article has taken so long to write. Leon sifu has always made it clear that it is completely unnecessary. It does not contribute to his training or make him a better Kung Fu practitioner, but as his student, I feel it’s my duty to merely highlight his commitment to martial arts goes beyond just training and teaching.
Leon is forever grateful to Lam family for accepting him into their Kung fu family and openly teaching him their family art of Hung Kuen. He is also thankful to all his senior Kung fu brothers in Hong Kong for all their guidance and help. Leon has spent many years following and learning from Lam Chun Sing sifu and his family and still continues to do so today. He has assisted his sifu with teaching Lam Family Kung Fu to students from all over the world, organizing seminars, workshops and private lessons, promoting and representing the family style in many different countries. Leon sifu is the official representative of Lam Family Hung Kuen in the United Kingdom and has dedicated his life, time and effort to the practice and promotion of Lam Family Hung Kuen.
Now with over 30 years experience, Leon sifu is dedicated to teaching and passing on the system the way he learnt it, holding martial values, such as honesty, perseverance, loyalty, generosity and humility close to his heart. We are lucky that Leon sifu teaches from the heart and therefore cares about every single student at his school, demanding perfection from everyone and openly teaching the system the way he learnt it. Since I have been here, sifu has always said that there are three key ingredients to make a good martial artist. A good teacher, a good method of teaching and a good student. There are certainly two out of the three here already, and I believe it is up to you and and I to become the third.