Master Wong Shun Leung called him “The Machine” and said that “if Barry hit any man hard, he would not get up”.
Australian Barry Lee discovered Wing Chun in his early twenties just before Bruce Lee‘s Enter the Dragon dropped a bomb on the martial arts world. Barry Lee took the dramatic step of selling all his possessions and moving to Hong Kong, where he became one of the first Westerners to master Wing Chun, studying with Wong Shun Leung.
As described in the article “They Called Him ‘The Machine‘” by Neville Burns, he trained “twelve to fifteen hours a day, seven days a week” for 18 months.
He “wouldn’t rest, wouldn’t give up, wouldn’t stop” and “wore out one training partner after another.” This hardcore dedication resulted in a legendary set of fighting skills.
Barry Lee is one of the most enigmatic figures I’ve found studying Wing Chun and its practitioners. Ten years ago, you couldn’t find much on anyone, but in these days of millions of Youtube videos and chat forumns and webpages, there is more information than you can absorb.
Yet on Barry Lee, there is only one seconds long glimpse of video (which looks like it was filmed off a TV), a few articles, and one interview (which was actually a Wong Shun Leung interview!).
But I have heard about him for years. He has a great deal of respect from other Wing Chun masters. The most common comment you hear is about how hard he could hit. Wong Shun Leung frequently said he was the best fighter he ever trained and Lee was offered Wong Shun Leung’s school after the master’s death. He even married Wendy Lee, Wong Shun Leung’s sister.
I always thought he was Asian, becasue of his last name, but he was of European descent. There is a lot of evidence that he had a tough time in Hong Kong fighting challenge matches with Chinese fighters angry that Wong Shun Leung was teaching a non-Chinese kung fu. Apparently he lost a few but as his training paid off, he eventually became extremely dangerous to challenge.
Barry Lee trained the old school way, with many long hours of stance training and thousands of repettions of the movements and hundreds of hours of Chi Sao. This is what it takes to be great at anything. Hardcore dedication, determination, and hard work.
These articles are fairly brief and well worth reading:
An Interview with Wong Shun Leung and Barry Lee
Bill Dowding says
This video is actually copied from my video, a copy given to me which made exactly 3 copies in the world. The two other people with copies have died, and we had promised never to release them. Clive Potter begged me to give him a copy on the condition he did not publish it. He did anyway selling copies of it and putting parts of it on youtube. Neither Barry nor myself are pleased about this.
The video is a private one from Jim Fung’s school when WSL gave a seminar there. There is a Chinese woman in the video who was Barry Lee’s wife, WSL’s sister, Wendy.
Although Barry did lose a few challengers while a junior student, he always went back to fight them again, and prevailed. Once he had to go back a third time. This was all early in his training, the first six months I beleive, but certainly less than a year. After that, few people wanted to challenge him.
I know Barry well, being a student of his for over 20 years, since 1989.
And most of the articles are actually typed up and edited by me, from Barry’s notes.
First I want to thank you for the articles, which are rare windows in Sifu Lee’s perspective on Wing Chun and his history in the art.
Of course I respect your feelings about these videos but might I ask, respectfully, why you and Sifu Lee wanted to keep them unpublished?
I know of some other unpublished materials, particularly the large film library owned by Hawkins Cheung, and I of course am eager to see them all!
When I was putting this post together, it was like trying to write an article about Bigfoot – everything I found you see here – one picture, a few seconds of film, and a handful of articles and one interview.
Yet I feel Sifu Lee has a very unique perspective on the system and what works and how one should train, so its frustrating to find so little information!
Any chance you could encourage him to do a book? I for one would love to hear what he has to say!
Again, thanks for sharing. Barry Lee has always been spoken of with great respect by my teacher and his SIfu Gary Lam.
Bill Dowding says
That particular video is a different issue. It was given to me by someone who died, and Jim Fung was dead, and they didn’t want it published. WSL didn’t either, which was a condition of taking the video. Barry wasn’t a major player in that decision as far as I know. I wasn’t even there, and was given the video as a privilege. So, in honour of promises given to the dead, I didn’t give out copies until I took a copy to Wu Chun Nam who asked for one. I felt that was fair since he is the senior WSL teacher (he died recently) Clive was there and begged me etc etc, and then broke his word when I did. So much for my attempt at amicable relationship with other VTK schools. So, no, now I trust no one. People like him are why so many will not release their films.
Actually, the reason why not to publish on video is complex, but the simple issue is that movies don’t show what is really happening. I can cite many examples of this. People look at the wrong things, and they only get a very superficial idea of what is going on. Perspective shows hands, feet etc in wrong places. Also, no one is perfect. We should listent to what the sifu is saying not what he is doing. I recall a teacher, very old, here in China where I live, who passed on a video of the advanced forms to his students before he died. He was arthritic and semi crippled with age. His students copied the movements right down to the twisted up fingers and aged shuffling, instead of what was intended.
Twice I even questioned WSL when he did something different from what I had been told, and he basically said he had a bad habit, and to do what I was taught, which was correct. He often said, more or less, do what I say, don’t do waht I do. And, This is my way, you have to do your own. Since then I have seen others copy WSL’s bad habits (entire chains of schools actually), because it was on video. When Barry asked about it (I was again at dinner with them) WSL said, well, they should learn from a teacher not a video anyway. He also said other things as well on the topic, some quite pointed. In those days I didn’t know which schools he meant and the names were just names, but now I do, and some are friends, so I won’t comment.
Plus, at a seminar etc, people will not try as hard if they think they will get a video of it. But it is while the teacher is there that they really need to try hard. So, no videos. I agree with Barry on this, but it was WSL who pointed it out. WSL also really didn’t like video. I feel a lot of the degradation of VTK in recent times is due to too many people learning from video, from seminars, and not having true sifu-todai relationships.
As far as books go, WSL often encouraged Barry to do one. I am a writer, and I am more than happy to collaborate with him should he feel the need for me to do so (Barry’s turns of phrase and writing is good enough for him not to need me, but I can organize it better and can type what he dictates, saving him effort). More than once he has agreed, but little has been done. But he feels that it is hard to pin down the ideas of VTK in words. It is.
Now that I live in China, and he lives in Oz, plus with his health problems it is hard to get together. I hope to try to see him next month if possible.
Personally, I am trying, with more than 1000 pages of writing and illustrations done so far, some of which is intended to be published soon (in the next year I hope), but probably only in Chinese at this time, (and possibly German a little later). If that goes ahead, I will try to release one a year until the whole system, or at least what I know, is finished. I probably won’t publish in English until Barry approves of it. Until he is in better health, and that will have to wait.
At least books are less misleading than video, and I intend to use drawings and diagrams and not photos, so these problems, I hope, will be reduced. Plus the old style drawings look so cool, if I can get someone to illustrate in that style. My own artwork stucks.
After this email I will be travelling again teaching in Germany, Holland and then Australia, and in a few weeks back to China so I will not be able to reply probably. If you have further questions it might be better to use my email.
Wow – thanks for the lengthy response Bill – and I see the truth of all of your points. When I started there was no video and now there is a river of it on Youtube and most of the river is a sewer!
People teaching techniques they learned last week etc.
Its greedy of me to want all of these videos but when I get them, they are often disappointing or I can only understand what is going on because of the long. detailed instruction and corrections I get from Greg based on his years of training and correction with Sifu Lam.
Bill Dowding says
People too often think that a sifu it a title, when it is actually a relationship. A true sifu, Your sifu, bleeds and suffers and sweats along with you as you learn, leading you into mastery, and not just dish out the high points or show you a form. Forms are like a text book. It is important that it be correct, but its the expertise in using it, and the detailed knowledge from applying that is important. A medical text doesn’t make you a surgeon.
Anyway, gotta go, the car is out the front waiting to take me to Heidlberg.
Serendipity. That is what I am experiencing right now. Something recent (2013) about Barry Lee and the possibility of seeing published works, just at the time I am switching to and training the ‘WSL method’!
I can understand all the reservations expressed above regarding videos and the dangers that ensue. However, it is so hard for prospective wing chun students to find quality training from honest people who actually know enough and have the skill, to teach the WSL method. I say that as a prospective wing chun student who experiences this difficulty, particularly when you try to find Sifus in the UK taught by Barry Lee that are accessible.
So, the possibility of a book expounding upon Barry Lee’s ideas and training method is something I very much look forward to. That said, as an Anglophone I beg that an English language version is released; just as you recount, Steven, the sense of disappointment you have felt when finally watching a video, imagine learning a language to read one book that turns out to be not a very good one!
Bill, do you have an example of artwork and diagrams in the ‘old style’?
Stevan Czerwiec (Cheviot) says
I use to be a good friend of Barries I use to train with him in Australia he is the god father
to my youngest daughter I owe him a great apology and I would like to contact him.
I know a few people who know Barry visit this site now and then, so perhaps one of them will be able to act as an intermediary – good luck!
Neville Burns says
If i can help Steve get a message to Barry i am happy to help. If privacy from others is important I will respect that in every way and if Steve contacts me by email i will give him my postal address rather than Barry;s as he is keeping very much to himself whilst recovering. I can guarantee to get a letter or message to him as i am in constant contact with the family and live 20 minutes from him. I believe that anyone who knows of my closeness to Barry will vouch for my honesty and reliability,
If you want to connect with Barry, send your message for him to my email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I pass it along to to Neville, who has graciously offered to forward it to Barry Lee.
Thanks Neville – I contacted Stevan – we’ll see what happens.