Grandmaster Richard Lee

Career Highlights:

• Richard Lee was the first American Kung Fu Master to legally travel to Mainland China in the 1970s. He had the same tour guide as the late President Richard Nixon.

• Grandmaster Lee was the first American born Chinese martial arts Grandmaster to earn an 8th degree black sash from the International Chinese Kuoshu (Kung-Fu) Federation in the Republic of China.

• Received his 10th degree black belt in Chinese Kenpo from Grandmaster Al Tracy in 1994.

• Three time United States Team Coach for the World Kuoshu Tournaments held in the Republic of China in 1975, 1992, and 1996.

• Awarded the most prestigious Class A Chinese Kuoshu Medal from I.C.K.F. President, General Chen, Shou-shan - 1994.

• First American-born Grandmaster Inducted into the most prestigious Chinese Kuoshu Hall of Fame in 2001.

• Received his 10th degree black belt among a virtual who's who of masters and grandmasters from over thirty nations around the world, at the American International Martial Arts Association Hall of Fame Inductions in 2001. The degree was presented by the E.U.S.A.I.M.A. President, Soke John Kanzler.

• One of the first six people ever to receive the Senior Masters Gold Kenpo ring at the 2nd Gathering of Eagles in 2001. Some other fellow ring recipients included Great Grandmaster Al Novak, Great Grandmaster Ralph Castro, Great Grandmaster John McSweeney, Grandmaster Al Dacascos and Grandmaster Larry Tatum.

• Grandmaster of the Year - 2002.

• Celebrated his 55th year in the martial arts in 2008 with a featured article in Inside Kung-Fu Magazine.

• Grandmaster Lee received his 10th degree black sash from the World Kuoshu Federation in 2004; the prestigious degree was presented by the Honorable Erik Wang, a White House representative of then United States President, George Bush.

• In 2004, Grandmaster Lee earned his Doctor of Philosophy Degree through the Eastern United States of America International Martial Arts Association College of Advanced Education and Martial Arts Studies.

• 2005 Instructor of the Year, Inside Kung-Fu Magazine.

• His West Coast Team has won the overall team Grand Championship at the International Kuoshu Championship Tournament in Baltimore, Maryland eleven years in a row (2001-2011).

• Senior Vice-President of the United States Chinese Kuoshu Federation.

• In 2006, Grandmaster Lee joined such martial arts legends as Ed Parker, Al Novak, Wally Jay, Gene Lebell, and Bruce Lee as a World Martial Arts Masters Association Hall of Fame Inductee.

• At the 3rd Gathering of Eagles in Chicago, IL, Grandmaster Lee was inducted into the 1st Kenpo International Hall of Fame as a Founding Member in June, 2007.

• Recognized as a Living Legend in the martial arts at the 20th anniversary of the Eastern United States of America International Martial Arts Hall of Fame Inductions in 2007.

• Founder of East-West Kung-Fu Schools and the Bok-Fu-Do system.

• At the executive board meeting of the 2010 World Kuoshu Federation, Grand Master Richard Lee was elected President. This is the first time in the history of the World Kuoshu Federation that any Grand Master with a Kenpo background has been elected into this honorable position.

                                                                                                   Grandmaster Lee performing his classic flying sidekick with Li Kuo Wang in front of the Tsuen Ta Pagoda at Sun Moon Lake - Republic of China, 1972.

                                                                                                   Grandmaster Lee performing his classic flying sidekick with Li Kuo Wang in front of the Tsuen Ta Pagoda at Sun Moon Lake - Republic of China, 1972.

Brief Bio:

Grandmaster Richard Lee had his first lesson in pugilism in 1946. His father was a professional boxer and his grandfather was a professional wrestler. Needless to say, there was a lot of encouragement in the subject at home. Lee grew up in a government housing project in a tough and poverty stricken neighborhood in New England. He learned quickly that life in the projects demanded a certain fighting mentality necessary for survival. Life at home was no different. Lee spent his youth under the watchful eye of his father, enduring a strict and unforgiving training approach that schooled Lee in the ways of boxing. It hardened Lee to the realities of his environment but inside he yearned for something more, a better life. 

In 1953, seven years into his training in boxing, Lee joined the local YMCA. Having learned how to swim before he learned how to walk, Lee joined the Y primarily for the swim team. But he found himself hanging around after swim practices observing a group of Frogmen, today known as Navy Seals, who were using the pool for underwater training. After several sessions, the Frogmen noted the curious Lee and began to show him things. Impressed by his enthusiasm, the Frogmen quickly took Lee under their wing. They taught Lee the jujitsu movements they had been trained to use for combat, taking turns working the applications on their new apprentice. Lee felt first hand the effectiveness of the joint manipulation, joint striking, and grappling that characterized the martial art.

In addition to his jujitsu training, Lee began studying the Japanese martial art style of Shotokan. Lee’s swim coach was a black belt in the art and encouraged Lee to learn Karate in an effort to improve his swimming ability. It was a mind focusing activity that taught Lee the benefits of training for the perfect movement through perfect practice. Lee realized that the martial arts should not only be centered on fighting but developing skill. Lee learned that the perfect punch delivered to the right spot could take down even the toughest opponent. Lee applied the same concepts for developing the perfect strokes in his swimming effort. It proved successful when Lee won the Connecticut State Swimming Championships in 1955.

 Olympic hopeful, Lee (center) in full flight out of the starting block.

 Olympic hopeful, Lee (center) in full flight out of the starting block.

In 1957, Lee moved to California where the swimming competition was thought to be world class. Once in California, Lee established himself as a true swimming hopeful for the 1960 Olympic Games. Lee fell just short of an Olympic berth and needed an outlet to redirect his energies

That is when Lee met Grandmaster Al Tracy. Tracy had just opened his school in San Jose, California. Lee liked Al right away and for years took private lessons with him on an average of five days a week. Lee went on to become one of Tracy’s first five black belts and went professional at the school with Al in the early 1960’s. After several successful years growing the school, they put together a business plan to expand the organization. In 1967 Lee opened his first school in Castro Valley, California. It was a former department store and was easily one of the largest schools of martial arts in the United States.

Upon hearing about the construction of this impressive facility, Grandmaster Ed Parker visited Lee in his new school. Ed Parker was immediately impressed with Lee’s dojo and in 1968 Lee joined the International Kenpo Karate Association as a Shodan black belt. Parker visited the school often thereafter and stayed as a guest at Lee’s home when he came to Northern California. Parker genuinely enjoyed the attitude of Lee’s students. Lee remained friends with Grandmaster Parker until his untimely death in 1990.

Lee's certification card for the rank of Shodan (black belt) issued by Ed Parker through the International Kenpo Karate Association (IKKA) in 1968.

 Lee was an official at one of the first California Karate Championships (CKC) in 1968.

Ed Parker (age 35) and Richard Lee (age 26) in Lee's Castro Valley School - 1967

Between 1967 and 1974, Lee opened eight schools and knew with certainty he was doing his life’s work. But Lee felt a calling to reach further outward into the world of martial arts. He felt very strongly that he should meet the ranking leaders not only in the Republic of China but all over the world. At that time, no American could travel to Mainland China but Lee’s goal was to be the first American born Master to do so when it became possible. Lee realized that goal in the 1970’s when President Richard Nixon opened up China to the West. Lee’s visit to China was directed by the same tour guide President Nixon employed.

  Lee with a Masaai warrior - Kenya 1976

  Lee with a Masaai warrior - Kenya 1976

In 1972, Lee traveled all over the Republic of China meeting several of the top Grandmasters and Masters in what proved to be a cultural exchange of knowledge and ideas. Lee’s humble attitude and passionate approach to learning Kung-Fu was received warmly by the Chinese and earned him the respect of a nation. Upon his return to the United States, Lee’s travel and research efforts were already being featured in popular magazines in the Republic of China. An article in New Martial Hero Magazine with popular movie star, Bruce Lee, on the cover labeled the aforementioned Lee a world traveling scholar and described Lee’s sincere wish to experience the real face of Eastern Kung-Fu culture.

Lee’s quest to research the various fighting systems of martial arts around the world included visits to several countries each on the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. His extensive studies brought him insights that perhaps no other American born Master of Chinese martial arts had observed. He carefully distilled his studies down into one pool of knowledge that formed the basis of the Bok-Fu-Do system Lee founded in 1972.

Later that same year, China put out the call for the best Chinese martial artists from nations around the world to gather in what would be the first ever World Kung-Fu Championships. Lee answered the call for America and trained a group of thirteen of his top students to represent the United States against more than thirty five nations. Lee went on to coach the U.S. team at the 1975 First World Kuoshu (Kung-Fu) Championships where his team placed first in the foreign teams division and first in the heavyweight fighting class. The success of Lee and his system, Bok Fu Do, on foreign soil earned American Martial Arts international respect.

Lee and his students gather with Mr. Hsu in Lee's Dublin East-West School after an East-West tournament in 1974.

 U.S. coach Lee stands proudly behind the American flag with U.S. team member John Simmons (left) and  assistant coach, Li Kuo Wang at the 1st World Kuoshu (Kung-Fu) Championships - Republic of China, 1975

The world class success that Lee began in 1975 is a pattern he has dedicated his life to. Since the First World Tournament in 1975, Lee’s students have represented the United States in numerous World Kuoshu Tournaments including the 1975, 1978, 1989, 1992, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2009 & 2012 events. Occurring once every three to four years, the World Kuoshu Tournaments are the Olympic equivalent for Chinese martial arts. In addition, Lee’s students have competed all over the world representing the United States in International Kuoshu Championships.

 In 1994, Grandmaster Tracy and Grandmaster Lee were the only two known tenth degree black belts in Chinese Kenpo.

 In 1994, Grandmaster Tracy and Grandmaster Lee were the only two known tenth degree black belts in Chinese Kenpo.

In 1994, Lee received his tenth degree black belt from Grandmaster Al Tracy in the presence of an international who’s who of Chinese martial arts. Those in attendance included General Chen, Shou-shan and General Wu, Hung-chang, the respective President and Vice-President of the International Chinese Kuoshu Federation in the Republic of China. Grandmaster Huang, Chien-liang, President of the United States Chinese Kuoshu Federation also attended. Grandmaster Li, Wing-kai (Brazil), Grandmaster Henry Look, Master Raymond Go (England) and Master Tat, Mau-wong were just a few of the others gathered. Then President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore sent Lee letters of congratulations for his success. Senator Diane Feinstien wrote her congratulations and sent a personal representative to read the letter. Taoist monks performed a purification ceremony on Lee before and after the presentation. Witnessed by dignitaries, grandmasters, and masters from around the world and only his top students, Lee and his style of Bok-Fu-Do was officially recognized internationally, marking it as one of the few such systems of Chinese martial arts founded and developed in the West. General Wu and Grandmaster Huang then appointed Lee the Senior Vice-President of the United States Chinese Kuoshu Federation and Lee’s East-West Kung-Fu school in Alamo was subsequently memorialized as the West Coast Headquarters for all of Chinese Kuoshu in America.