Update on Ace

The original due date for this project was the end of August, but apparently, I couldn’t finish him on time.  I was hoping I could finish him before I moved down to Los Angeles for school.  The truth is, I’m not even half done yet.  In fact, the due date was quite unreasonable and naïve.

Here’s what I have done so far.

Ace's blank ZhaoPai

Ace's side

How Ace looks from the front.

Hopefully, I can finish him during my winter break.  Until then, ciao!

The Lion’s Heartbeat

When people think of lion dancing, the last thing that comes to mind would probably be the music behind the lion’s movements. In fact, during performances, the audience rarely concentrates on the musical instruments – the focal point of the lion dance is the lion. Honestly, I think this should be changed. Drumming is an art form in itself. It’s just as hard as learning the lion dance movements. A lot of people who learn drumming after learning the lion movements get discouraged easily because of this difficulty. Not only do drummers have to continuously play the beats, they have to look after the lion and adjust the music according to the situation. Basically, the music is what keeps the dance alive – it is the lion’s heartbeat.

When I first started lion dancing, I didn’t get to go under the lion head. Before I was able to learn the lion’s movements, I needed to be able to play the cymbals first. Playing the cymbals is a lot easier than playing the drum for most people. I was able to learn the cymbal beats pretty quickly, so my Sifu decided to teach me drumming too. The first thing I learned was the “proper” way to hold the drum sticks. I was taught to hold it gently with my thumb and index finger, like this:

Picture taken from http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jun/19/food-guilty-pleasures-jay-rayner

Continue reading

Painting Lion Ear

I got a new camera (Panasonic Lumix DMC-S1) recently and decided to film a short duration of a lion ear getting painted. Unfortunately, my camera only records in 2gb segments and it doesn’t let you know when it reaches the limit. That explains why there’s a small chunk of the video missing, if you pay attention really closely. This is also my first video I’ve made (since 8th grade, the Windows Movie Maker days) using Sony Vegas. It took me about 6 hours to figure out everything…all for a 45 second video.

There is 24 minutes of footage condensed into about 30 seconds. It may seem like a long time for me to take almost half an hour to paint just the red portions, but my hands were shaking and I was worried about my hand touching freshly painted portions. That actually happened once but the smear wasn’t too noticeable. I fixed it right away and it’s not there anymore.

Anyways, enough words. Time for the video! Enjoy!

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 http://ykmusa.com/picsperf1.html

Picture taken from http://ykmusa.com/picsperf1.html

  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!

De-prioritization of Wushu

Following a quite nagging and painful Achilles injury from running, I felt it was best to not further aggravate it with wushu. I have been doing more running and have set a goal of running the San Francisco Half Marathon in July.

I go for longer runs on Saturdays and have been using Sundays (normal wushu day) as a rest day. Further, since earlier this year, I have been going on longer runs on Thursday evenings as well and thus have been also missing Thursday’s wushu class. This past month has probably been one of my least wushu involved months in years. With that in mind, I have started to de-prioritize wushu.

I will continue to focus on running for the time being. When Ryan returns to wushu practice, I will make the effort to go and hopefully get in some lion dance practicing.

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.

Where Are The Practice Lions?

Are there such things as practice lions, that are made for practicing lion dancing? How does a lion become a “practice” lion? I’ve been wondering about this for some time.

As you can see from our training videos, we usually just practice a bunch of stacking. There are just a few videos where we actually practice with with Ryan’s lion. This is because there’s not really a practice lion to use. So we’re lucky when Ryan has the time and is able to transport his lion to practice.

I ask Ryan about his all the time. He says that basically there are new lions, which are performance lions. These are new and beautiful and people don’t like to get them beaten up by practicing with them. Then, as these performance lions get worn down over the course of their performance lives, they gain sentimental value with the owner/dancer. If something breaks, it is fixed. Over time, the lion may even be put through a restoration process if things get bad. Because they have sentimental value and memories attached to them, they are not sold when they are old, get worn down, or after restoration. They are retired and stashed away as a keepsake.

I guess the only time people get to practice with actual lions is when someone is generous enough to let you use their lion to practice with or if you happen to find an old lion for sale, which I hear is rare. Or maybe you can try to make one to practice with? Either that or you bite the bullet yourself and get a new lion to practice with. Or perhaps, you go with the laundry basket or chair method for practicing lion dancing.

I mean, dragon boaters don’t practice in the bath tub and then get into a real boat on race day. So how do you people do it? I think the answer here, as with most things, comes down to money. You pay for a lion to practice with.

So I’m wondering if there are lions made out there that are are made specifically for practice purposes. No need for paint, fur, or decorations. As long as the mouth and eyes work and the weight is right, it’d be a good practice lion. Or maybe there are lions made that have imperfections. You know, like the Belly Flops of lion dance lions. Or perhaps the poorly manufactured ones that are more affordable? Where do you get those? Anybody know?

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.

Photos Page Is Up!

The new Photos page has been created. We will be adding lion dance photos there.

Currently there’s only one album from the 2011 Oxbow Performance.

2011 Oxbow Market Chinese New Year Performance

This was performance we did at the Oxbow Market in Napa for Chinese New Years on Feburary 13, 2011. Alex and Jason was dancing a lion, Elissa and Pam was dancing another lion.<br><br> We did a few new puzzles for this performance. Alex and Jason did a snake puzzle. Elissa and Pam did a giant fish puzzle. This was a long marathon of a performance, almost 30 minutes of lion dancing I think. <br><br> Thanks to Thomas Chun for taking the performance photos.

Kids Love Lions

One of the main purposes of the lion dance is to scare off evil and bring good luck.  Particularly in southern style lions, this symbolism is exhibited in ornaments such as the mirror on the lion’s forehead, used to scare evil spirits with their reflection.

To those that have never seen a lion dance lion before, they might imagine images of scary and fierce looking creatures.  Although this is certainly true with some lion styles and colors schemes, a growing trend in playful and cute looking lions have dominated the lion dance performance scene due to their crowd pleasing appearance.  These bright colored, furry lions are particularly adored by kids.  What kid wouldn’t love a huge, colorful, soft fur, animated lion? They look like giant sized stuff animals that move!

I think performing for an audience with kids is a lot more fun because you can see just how much kids enjoy watching the lion.  Their eyes open wide in amazement at the mystical looking lion and laughter ensues when the lion does playful movements.  Kids have an easier ability to just see the lion as a lion, instead of two people underneath a costume.  Therefore, if performed well, kids will forget about the people underneath… as the lion comes to life.

As part of the World Brooklyn exhibit at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, kids get an inside-the-head look at what it’s like to be a lion dancer.

Here are some fun photos taken by my cousin at the exhibit.

The excitement of kids when they see a lion dance brings a lot of satisfaction to lion dancers alike.  You’re certainly there to lift their spirits and bring a smile to their faces.  Their slight hesitation and fascination, when they try to feed a red envelope into the lion’s mouth is an experience that they will not forget.  This moment, from within the lion’s head, is equally memorable. 🙂

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.

Stuffing Things Down My Shirt

If memory serves me right, the following is a list of items that I’ve stuffed down my shirt in the past couple years during lion dance performances.  These props are part of puzzles that the lion has to solve/interact with.  And if you’re dancing the lion, there’s no place to store stuff except down your shirt, in your mouth, in your hand, tucked into belts, etc.

The following are items that have actually went down my shirt though… 😛

  1. Many oranges
  2. Many tangerines
  3. Pomelo
  4. Gourd
  5. Acupuncture needles
  6. Red envelopes filled with money
  7. Loose bills
  8. Red envelopes filled with tea leaves
  9. Sewing needle (in pouch)
  10. Metal chisel
  11. Small metal sharpening block
  12. Book

March 20, 2011: Sunday Practice

Ryan brought his lion to practice today. Ryan has been absent from practice for some time due to his school work load.

Ryan showed some of the wushu youth how to hold the lion, shoot the lion’s head, and some stance positions. I think the youth are interested in learning more. Heck, lion dancing is fun and is a change from the usual wushu basics that we do every time.

We worked on a few new things today. We worked on the intro of picking up and getting under the lion. We never really do this at performances because we usually always enter the audience area already underneath the lion. But this is good to know, in case we do a different intro where we’re outside the lion to begin with.

The intro we devised is simple, has a salute, a few empty hand movements, including a jump inside. Then we skip over the lion and pick it up. The head pick up involves a lift with the foot, which is pretty neat. We’ll need to practice this more.

The second new thing we tried today was a body turn in the lion. This is where you see the dancers momentarily as the lion’s head and body is spun in one direction. Similar to how a lion roll is (where you side roll on the ground), except we’re standing.

We’ll have to get some footage of these new moves in the future so you can see. Overall, a fun practice! 🙂

Lion Dance Videos Are Up!

I just embedded all the lion dance videos that I’ve shot over the past years! They’re available in the Videos section. Check it out! 🙂

Welcome To LionBlogs.com!

We’re excited to welcome everyone to LionBlogs.com!

This site is managed by fellow lion dance teammates, Ryan Au and Alex Ng.  We will be posting our lion dance experiences here as part of our training blog.  We will also be adding in lion dance resources and articles to help promote and spread the art of lion dancing.

So keep posted for new material coming real soon! 🙂