Author Archives: Ryan

My Ignorance in Hok San Lion Dancing

After reading some comments about The Lion Horse, I’ve come to a realization that I completely neglected the existence of traditional Hok San lion dancing. This was very stupid of me because traditional Hok San lion dancing is probably the closest cousin to traditional Fut San lion dancing, as compared to northern lion dancing, Qilin dancing, etc.  I should have mentioned that I was speaking solely from a Fut San hybrid point of view. Here’s a list of the possible reasons for this ignorance:

  1. I’ve only seen two pictures of traditional Hok San lion heads, EVER. At one point, I thought the most traditional Hok San lion heads were the older ones made by a prominent master in Malaysia. I don’t want to mention his name because I have mixed feelings about his contributions to the lion dancing community. Maybe I’ll write a blog about him one day. Anyway, I’ve never seen a video of traditional Hok San lion dancing either. Maybe the differences between traditional and contemporary Hok San lion dancing are so slight that I don’t notice them.

Picture taken from

Picture taken from

  1. I’ve never been trained in Hok San lion dancing. The closest thing would be a hybrid style which incorporates aspects from both Hok San and Fut San lion dancing. I learned about the modified horse stance from this hybrid style.
  2. A lot of teams use Hok San and Fut San lion heads interchangeably. I’ve seen some teams do Fut San lion dancing with Hok San heads, and vice versa. A lot of newer teams are creating hybrid styles that blur the line between Hok San and Fut San lion dancing.

Now that I’ve realized my ignorance in traditional Hok San lion dancing, I really want to learn more. It’s quite unfortunate that I can’t find much information about it on the internet. I think it’s time for me to ask some older and more experienced lion dancers about this topic.

The Lion Horse

Scientists have recently discovered a fascinating creature in the mountains of southern China.  It has the thin legs of a horse and the large head of a lion.  Surrounding its face is a massive amount of loose, fluffy hair.  They call it the Lion Horse.

Just kidding.

Something as simple as a horse stance can be done in multiple ways.  Kung fu, Tai Chi, Karate, and even Tae Kwon Do utilize the horse stance.  Although they all do the horse stance in a similar way, each style still has their own differences – even if it’s a small detail like the angle of the knees and feet.  In southern Chinese martial arts, two major methods of horse stance exist.  二字鉗羊馬(Yee jee keem yeung ma) is the less common version mainly used in Wing Chun, featuring slightly bent knees and inward pointed toes.  The more popular version, 四平馬(sei ping ma), is used in most other southern styles.  Traditionally speaking, this is also the horse stance used in lion dancing.  But recently, another version has appeared in the contemporary styles of lion dancing.  I like to call it the “modified horse stance”. Continue reading

The Story of Ace

About four years ago, a good friend of mine brought me an old lion head named Ace.  He mentioned to me that Ace needed some minor repairs and honored me with this task.  I gladly accepted without having even seen the lion yet.  At a first glance, Ace looked fine to me.  It wasn’t until my friend lifted the lion head that I realized how damaged Ace really was.  From afar, here’s how Ace looked like:

Ace before repairs started

It just looks like an old wrinkly lion head with the droopy eyed syndrome, right?  The real problem was in the framework; the right side of the lion frame had completely detached from the base rim.  It was definitely not a minor problem, but I still took the job.  As I looked over Ace at home, I realized that this lion wasn’t just an ordinary lion; there was probably a rich amount of history with it. This is when I learned about the story of Ace.

History buried within

Ace was owned by a really kind woman in Sacramento, who lent Ace to UC Irvine’s Southern Young Tigers lion dance team.  My good friend had started this team, and I presume he was the one who  borrowed Ace.  At the time, Southern Young Tigers was still a newly established team; Ace was really important to them.  Most new lion dance teams know that during their initial year or two, they will not have a lion head to work with.  To most new teams, a brand new lion head is just simply too expensive and unaffordable.  Many years after the team was established, they were able to obtain many newer  lion heads.  By then, Ace was old and was starting to break, but it was never fixed properly.  As time passed, Ace’s damages kept spreading along the frame.  Finally, it ended up in an unusable state, so my good friend came to me with Ace.  He just wanted some simple repairs and “touch ups”, but I suggested something different.

Knowing that a lot of the paper mache had to be ripped off to fix Ace, I suggested that a complete restoration be done.  Even if I fixed the detached frame, there would be many other places prone to breaking.  The frame already had a ridiculous amount of loose joints and broken bamboo strips.  I wanted to restore the beauty of Ace.  It was strongly believed that Ace can be a beautiful lion head again.

Initially, the head would return to UC Irvine after the repairs and “touch ups”, but after the original owner said yes to the full restoration, Ace will be returned back to Sacramento.  When the green light was given, I ripped off all the paper mache.

Bones of Ace - the frame

To my surprise, I found even more loose joints and broken bamboo pieces.  It almost seemed as if Ace was abused.  It took me almost 20 hours to fix the damage!  After most of the damage was fixed, I started the most tedious process – paper mache.  This is one of the hardest and longest steps of lion head restoration.

The first 8 paper mache squares

Hours and hours have passed, but I’ve only paper mache’d about half of the lion.  Here is it’s current state.

Pretty much the entire back of Ace's head has been paper mache'd

Hopefully, I’ll finish restoring Ace by the end of the year!

My Apologies

Sorry for the hiatus folks! School has been draining me for the past month and will continue to do so for the next month! I will be back at the end of May. My sincere apologies.

How It All Started

This is the room where it all started.

I was only 9 years old when I first walked into this room to learn kung fu and lion dancing. Although the class wasn’t very strict, I still stayed to learn as much as I could. The level of discipline in the class was shown very clearly; I wasn’t a very good martial artist or lion dancer by the time I left 5 years later. Yes, I did learn quite a bit (over 10 forms), but I could not execute them well. Furthermore, within a year of leaving, I forgot 90% of the forms that took me a gruesome 5 years to learn.

Two days ago, I paid a visit to my first Sifu and Simo. The kung fu class has changed drastically. In fact, they don’t even do lion dancing anymore. In order to focus on teamwork, my Sifu bought a baby dragon set, which utilizes a group of 8 adolescents. The class has also become smaller in size, which gives a chance for my Sifu to help students individually. The quality and discipline of the class has gotten much better, but can still go for some improvement.

Memories rushed through my brain as I stood at the doorway watching my Sifu teach the students. His teaching style is very relaxed, yet thorough. In my opinion, it would be much better for him to teach older teenagers and young adults rather than adolescents. Still, you can see the joy in his eyes as he teaches the kids. I still remember the times he would walk up to me to give me individual feedback as I did my forms. Oh, how I miss those days. My interests in kung fu and lion dancing has definitely stemmed from the experiences I’ve had in that room.

Lion Brothers

The excitement surged through my body as I carried my first brand new lion head out of Clarion Music Center. I wasn’t the only one affected by these feelings; my Si Hing had also purchased a lion head on the same day, at the same time. We both walked out of the shop with pride.

Just the other day, I was digging through my old lion dance pictures to reminisce my past experiences in the art. Although the purchase was hasty, I do not regret buying my first lion. I’m sure my Si Hing feels the same way too. Speaking of my Si Hing, we had a pretty interesting history together. He was one year older than me, and went to the same elementary and middle school as me. Even then, I had no idea who he was until I joined my first kung fu class, where he was notoriously known as the mischievous Si Hing. We quickly became friends.

After several years of practicing together, we decided it was time to buy our own lion heads. Heck, we probably thought we were bad@$$ lion dancers at the time, but in reality, we sucked. It was literally a lion DANCE. No power, no stances, no nothing. Just two kids waving a paper mache mask around. We simply didn’t have the enthusiasm that real lion dancers had; we just wanted to enjoy ourselves.

The Hoi Gong ceremony for the two lion heads were done on the same day, during my Sifu’s annual birthday celebration performance. In addition, both lions were dotted by my Sifu. Automatically, we knew that these two lions would be lion brothers forever.

My Si Hing and his lion dance partner holding up his brand new lion.

Me and my lion dance partner holding up my brand new lion.

My Sifu going through the Hoi Gong ceremony with my lion.

My Si Hing doing the sleeping/waking up routine.

The lion brothers in their first performance.

Group picture featuring the lion brothers.

Circa 2004 – My Si Hing and me.