Sifu Yu Speaks Out

[ Master Yu, met with his famous former student in L.A. where Jackie was on tour to publicize, "The Big Brawl"]



   It seems only fair to let Chan's real sifu have a chance to tell his side of the story.
   Sifu Yu Chan-yuan, the master of the infamous school now lives in a small apartment in Los Angeles, its walls decked with mementos from his career in Peking opera, his school, his famous students, and his recent movie made in Los Angeles, The Old Master(The Intrigue). Now in his late seventies, Yu is living testimony to the benefits of kung-fu. He holds his trim, compact body erect, shoulders squared, as if his role as a general, which he played for so many years in Peking opera had permanently molded his lineaments along soldierly lines.

   From a teacher's perspective, an education of any value includes a certain amount of unavoidable pain. In reminiscing about, his years as master of his Peking opera school Yu emphasizes the difficulty of imposing a classical tradition of beauty, grace, and precision-the art of the Peking opera--on an uncivilized mass of undisciplined reflexes and raw energy-a class of seven-year-old children.

   "It's important to be strict" says Yu "One must be very strict, especially for young children of seven, eight, and nine. They're very naughty. You can't use reason with them. They need threats and punishment. That's the only way you can keep them in order day after day. That's the only way they will be benefited. Most children are very lazy."

   Since Yu was especially hard on those children with talent, it's likely that Jackie came in for an extra share of punishment. "Only those children who have natural ability can be actors," he says. "We only pay special attention to those for whom we have high hopes. We don't bother to be strict with those who will never have any ability." However, Yu denies that he is overly rigorous. "A person learning any kind of art requires tremendous discipline to be outstanding. When young boys start out at age seven, I have to teach them to be patient, to help them develop their character and personality. They must learn to be more restrained."

   "Peking opera training is very precise. When you learn somersaults or jumping, it's not just to show one's agility. The movement has to be graceful, and done exactly right. Any mistakes can result in injury."
   The elegant precision of Peking opera developed over the centuries, as the traditional Chinese drama of the 13th and 14th centuries evolved into a highly sophisticated, highly stylized art. In today's opera, each gesture of the hands and fingers, each movement of the arms and legs, and each facial expression has been preordained. Every step, leap, or twirl in the dancing, gymnastics, acrobatics, or manipulations of stage weaponry must be perfected through long practice. Every note sung and every detail of the makeup follows a long tradition.