The root of Shen Kung Fu academy is the Ng Ga Kuen or Five Family Fist/Style of kung fu brought to the west by Great Grandmaster Ark Y. Wong. However, our story begins in Mexicali, Baja California Mexico where the Dragon Rojo school of "Estilo Kung Fu Cinco Animales" or Five Animal Style Kung Fu was established in the early 1970's.
Sometime between the late 1950's and early 1960's, Ark Y. Wong came out of retirement, opened up the Wah Que kung fu school on Ord Street in L.A. Chinatown and began teaching non-chinese students. The exact dates and the reasons behind his decision to teach non-chinese have been the subject of too much debate and speculation but what is important is that this happened, and it started the domino effect that led to kung fu's world-wide popularity.
In 1961, Ralph Shun began training with Ark Y. Wong and went on to become the Grandmaster's closest and most advanced student. Ralph Shun was already an experienced and advanced martial artist prior to meeting Ark Wong having learned the Hakka Unicorn style, Southern Fut Ga and Yang Tai Chi Chuan, all from prominent masters in Hawaii. This allowed him to receive and absorb Ark Wong's advanced teachings and deep knowledge. Ralph Shun was also know to have the ability to analyze and dissect other styles and was able to assimilate a number of these including Northern Praying Mantis and others. Again, there is debate and speculation about exactly what Ralph Shun learned and where but the point is that he was amazingly knowledgeable in various styles of kung fu. Ralph Shun achieved Grandmaster status in his own right and went on to establish his own schools and taught many students. One of these students, Manuel Cisneros is of great significance to Shen Kung Fu as he is to hundreds of other schools and to thousands of students whom he impacted.
Manuel Cisneros first started the Red Dragon school of Karate in Mexicali, Baja California Mexico. He began learning kung fu from Grandmaster Ralph Shun and by the early 1970's he had started a sister school, Red Dragon Kung Fu. Red Dragon Shaolin 5 Animal Kung Fu grew exponentially and was one of the largest and strongest kung fu organizations of its time with schools in most states of the Mexican republic and thousands of students. Master Manuel Cisneros accomplished what many others have not, he spread the teachings of Shaolin Kung Fu and his effort continues to touch people to this day.
Sifu David Moreno was the first black sash from the Dragon Rojo kung fu school of Master Cisneros. Sifu Moreno established the Gran Dragon kung fu school in Calexico, California where I, Sifu Mario Figueroa became a student and began my journey into the Chinese Martial Arts. This was a defining moment in my life and the care, kindness, discipline and example of Sifu Moreno and all of my kung fu brothers was invaluable. At Gran Dragon I became part of a family, I learned to share, to be of service to others, to seek the higher aspects of life and more, much, much more. I owe more than I can express to this small band of kung fu pioneers and to our teacher, Sifu David Moreno.
I ended my training when I moved to San Diego, California. As much as I loved my kung fu and my school, I had always wondered about our history, our extended family, and our roots, but answers were not available. Years went by, and one day in 2003, I found the website of Seming Ma, the grandson of Ark Wong. This was unbelievable. I tried to contact Seming but after weeks of waiting received no reply. I then contacted Sifu George Castro, a direct student of Ark Wong and he replied inviting me to visit his class in Rancho Cucamonga, California, a 2 hour drive from my home. Sifu George ran the Narrow Path school at one of the city public parks and had a handful of long time students. He and his students received me with open arms and I was finally found a link to my roots, the Ng Ga Kuen style of kung fu. Sifu George trained basics, basics to perfection and focused on spontaneous applications. The forms were trained hard as well but there was no hurry to advance and learn more forms, we devoted much of our time to drills and two man random applications. Unfortunately, Sifu George relocated to Houston, Texas in 2005, but our friendship continues strong and he is a colleague, advisor and active contributor to Shen Kung Fu Academy. Before leaving, Sifu George awarded me my instructor certificate and then introduced me to Grandmaster Seming Ma to assure my continued my training.
During my time with Seming, I was able to apply much of my prior learning to the understanding and decoding of the Ng Ga Kuen style and it is then that I began the labor of codification of the style, developing theories and principles and confirming my findings with the master. When I re-opened Shen Kung Fu Academy in 2007, Seming gave me the school name, characters and couplets, a very special gift that I will always appreciate. Shen Wai Mo Gwoon.
In 2006 I received an email from a very familiar name, Melvin Armstrong, asking about a dvd of Grandmaster Ark Wong. By a stroke of luck, it was Master Melvin Armstrong, one of the close direct students of GM Wong. We struck a virtual friendship which grew online until we met in person the summer of 2007. Master Melvin and his wife Linda could't be nicer people. Master Melvin has become a guide and mentor with direct experience from the old days. He shares freely and generously and I am thankful for his support of Shen Kung Fu Academy. See information about the upcoming workshop with Master Melvin.
Most recently, I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Master Gary Gee. Master Gee is the closest student of Grandmaster Ralph Shun and has already been instrumental in providing knowledge and insight about GM Shun, about his kung fu roots and training and has thus helped link all of us who are products of Manuel Cisneros Red Dragon legacy back to our origins. Master Gee is a gifted martial artist on his own right and we trust and hope that our friendship will continue to grow and that we can learn and benefit from his experience as we pursue our continued advancement. I also wish to thank his family and the Shun family for their kindness, openess and excelent hospitality.