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Andy’s Epic Asia Trip and Project T7 Update

Remember my friend Andy Ta, the lion dance addict? Well, he and Morris Lam (another lion dance friend) recently came back from an epic trip to Asia where they experienced all things lion dance related. They even brought back some beautiful equipment!

Morris and Andy

Their trip started in Vietnam, where Jow Ga lion dance is very popular. Recently, some Vietnamese-made lion heads have been starting to look more and more like the ones found in China. Before, some styles had moveable horns and other interesting features. Andy and Morris visited Quang Do, a popular lion and dragon maker in Vietnam.

Unfinished Vietnamese lion heads

They didn’t purchase any Vietnamese lions, but brought back a bunch of miscellaneous equipment like flags, banners, scrolls, uniforms, etc.

Their next destination was Singapore, where Jow Ga lion dance is also very popular along with many other styles of kung fu. Supposedly, the story is that many Chinese kung fu masters of various styles fled to different countries during the Cultural Revolution, forming many international branches. Because Andy is a Jow Ga student, he was able to visit the Zhong Wai Zhou Jia Quan Association. Only Jow Ga members are allowed inside!

Zhong Wai Zhou Jia Quan Association

Members only!

Even though Andy is from the USA Jow Ga branch, he was very welcome in Singapore’s branch. Talk about a strongly-knit kung fu family!

Morris and Andy with important people of the Zhong Wai Zhou Jia Quan Association

Next, they went to visit Qing Wei Cultural Troupe, a lion dance team led by Leon Ng. If I’m not mistaken, he also makes lions and dragons as a side hobby. During the visit, they were preparing for a future competition.

Leon Ng

Their last destination in Singapore was Kong Chow Wui Koon, a large Chinese cultural center where they teach many different Chinese performing arts. Andy and Morris were fortunate to visit their lion dance museum thanks to Fatty Cheong (his real name is Chan Tuck Cheong), the chief instructor for lion dance and dragon dance at Kong Chow Wui Koon.

Some ornate styles of lions in Kong Chow Wui Koon

Andy and Fatty Cheong (Chan Tuck Cheong)

Interestingly enough, I remember seeing a video about Fatty Cheong on Youtube. It wasn’t about lion dance though – he makes some of the best Cha Siu in Singapore!

Their last destination was Hong Kong, where most of the excitement took place! First, I want to tell a little story about lion head craftsmen in Hong Kong. Back in the 1900’s, Hong Kong had some famous lion dance equipment companies such as Lo An Kee and Bak Wan, but they slowly withered away. It was hard to make a living by being a lion craftsman, and took many years and lots of patience to master the art. Although Lo An Kee and Bak Wan, along with many others, are not in business anymore, a few lion craftsmen have become popular in this generation. Andy and Morris were lucky to have a chance to visit some of these fine lion craftsmen in Hong Kong.

One of them is Yu Ho, who has been gaining much popularity these past few years because of his originality and creativity on traditional southern lion heads. Unfortunately, Andy didn’t purchase a lion head from Yu Ho this time because his team bought one recently. But, they did have some good conversation and Andy also picked up a discontinued style of Dai Tau Fut mask.

Discontinued style of Dai Tau Fut masks

Andy with Yu Ho

Because Morris is from the USA Yau Kung Moon branch, they were able to attend a banquet hosted by the Hong Kong’s Yau Kung Moon Association. There were lots of lion dance and kung fu performances. They even got to take a picture with the chairman of Yau Kung Moon Association, Ha Tak Kin.

Ha Tak Kin with Andy

Morris with Ha Tak Kin

The next popular lion craftsmen are Hui Ka Hong and his teenage nephew, King Demon Lion. The company name is Hong See Lau (雄獅樓). Andy was able to bring back a set of three lions from them, one for each of the three famous generals from the Three Kingdoms. These are some epic traditional lion heads with a modern twist.


Zhang Fei, Liu Bei, and Guan Yu

Immortals members Tommy, Elisa, and Andy with Hui Ka Hong and King Demon Lion

The next and last lion craftsman they visited was Hon Cheung Ho, also known as Hong Kong’s No Shadow Hands (香港無影手) for his drumming skills. He made a red and gold Jow Ga style lion for the Immortals.

Below is a picture showing five lion heads made by modern day Hong Kong lion craftsmen. It is definitely a rare sight to see this variety of Hong Kong lion heads all in one picture. On the left is a lion made by Yu Ho. The three lions in the middle are the three generals from the Three Kingdoms made by Hui Ka Hong. On the right is the red and gold Jow Ga lion made by Hon Cheung Ho.

From left to right: Fut San lion made by Yu Ho, Three Kingdoms’ generals made by Hui Ka Hong, and Jow Ga lion made by Hon Cheung Ho.

Before ending their time in Hong Kong, Andy and Morris watched a lion dance competition sponsored by adidas. According to Andy, this was one of the most eye-opening lion dance experiences he’s ever had. I take that back. This WHOLE trip was one of the most eye-opening lion dance experiences he’s ever had. Hopefully, I will be able to join them on their second epic trip to Asia!

Lion dance competition sponsored by adidas

P.S. Regarding Project T7, I actually forgot to post an update after I last worked on it. Here’s a picture of what I finished last break. I couldn’t get much done because a lot of other stuff happened, but at least some people will now understand why it’s called Project T7!

Project T7 Sharingan

Project T7 in its current state

After Andy told me about his trip to Asia (especially his experiences in Hong Kong), I had a new spark of inspiration for the art of lion making. I can’t wait to work on it again.

Until next time.

Ace Restoration – Overview and Final Comments

After something like six long years, I’ve finally completed the restoration of Ace on April 24th, 2013. It was definitely not a piece of cake! Initially, I said it probably took about 60 or so hours for this entire project, but that was an underestimate. Now that I think about it, I probably spent over 100 hours.  With that amount of time comes many things learned from this project – both things I would and wouldn’t do again. In the first part of this blog, I’ll give an overview of the project. In the second part, I’ll give some final comments about the restoration, including the things that I wouldn’t do again for my future projects. The third part will be about some fun events with Ace. Let’s get started!

When Ace was first handed to me, the right side of the frame was completely off the base and the damage extended upward toward the cheeks and to the back near the gills.

Ace when I first got him. Notice how the mouth area is sinking toward the bottom due to the broken frame.

In the process of repairing Ace’s frame.

Notice the detachment even though I already started repairs.

This was one of the most troublesome parts of the project for me, since I didn’t have much experience fixing framework at the time. It took me quite a long time to figure out how everything was supposed to go back together, much like a puzzle.

After fixing the frame came the longest and most tedious part of any lion building/restorations – paper mache. Like Chris Low once said, “lather, rinse, and repeat” pretty much describes this step.

Front view of Ace papered, excluding the top fins.

Side view of Ace papered, excluding the top fins.

Back view of Ace papered, excluding the top fins.

Top fins papered.

What I did next is something that I didn’t tell many people until recently – automotive body filler. This step was probably even more tedious than the paper mache. One of my mentors told me that some traditional craftsmen back in the day put a really thin layer of plaster over the paper to make the surface smooth. I was taking auto-body repair classes at the time and got the idea of using a thin layer of automotive body filler instead. Boy, was that a bad idea! More on that later. After the body filler step, I glued the relief patterns with rope and pasted grass paper over everything. I then sealed the inside and outside of the lion with sealer-primer and painted a base coat of white. The lion was now ready for the colors and designs!

Grass paper over body filler with relief patterns made from rope.

For some reason, my favorite part to paint is the horn area, so I always do that first.

Painting around the horn. Note how the body filler makes a smooth surface.

Skip to several years later, I finally finished painting Ace. A gloss coat was put over the entire head to seal the paint, then embellishment began! A white rabbit fur pelt was cut into quarter-inch strips for various decorations around the head. Half-inch wide metallic gold gimp trim was used to cover the rabbit fur edges. I cut off the sharp part of brass thumbtacks to use the head as metal disks, which were glued around various locations on the lion. White bristle hair was attached by my friend, Andy Ta, since my fingers were cracked and bleeding from all the previous work. Silk balls were attached on their corresponding fins. Unfortunately, I got the silks balls secondhand and there weren’t enough for every single fin. Instead, I glued a metal disk on the inner gill fin tips.

Finished painting Ace!

Rabbit fur and metal disks glued on, bristle hair attached.

Silk balls attached!

Silk balls attached on the three hind fins. Metal disks in place of silk balls for the triangular fins.

Next, I mounted the mouth and the ears. I worked on these two parts separately as a break from the main lion frame. For the beard, I bought ten 1-inch wide hair extension clip-ons and cut off the clip. I glued each strip side by side on the lip and glued trim over the glued edges. This is another step that I would modify for my next projects.

Ears mounted.

Completed mouth.

Ace’s beard. Notice how thin it is compared to other beards. Taking that into consideration for future projects.

Ace COMPLETE! Image taken by Chris Low.

Here are some shots from various angles.

Ace from a front-side angle.

Side view of Ace.

Back view of Ace.

Pattern above the eye.

Completed horn area.

Here are some before and after pictures!

Before and after, front view.

Ear, before and after.

Above the mouth, before and after.

Side view, before and after.

Back view, before and after.

Overall, this was a really nice project for me. It was the first full restoration of an adult-sized lion that I’ve ever done.  Previous projects were either full restorations of baby lions or steps of a larger restoration. I definitely learned a lot of things! Here’s a compilation of all the things I wouldn’t do again (in case anyone want to avoid it too).

  • No more masking tape for binding. That stuff loses its adhesive properties over time and becomes crusty. I really like Thomas’ idea of using first aid/sports tape as a binding medium, so I’ll be using that from now on.
  • No more body filler, EVER! That was probably my biggest regret of the entire project. Yes, it is tough stuff, but when it goes on too thick, it cracks very easily. It was very hard for me to spread a thin and even layer of body filler, since the stuff is like watery clay. Not only that, sanding it was a pain in the butt! I spent MANY hours sanding that stuff. The sanding dust is toxic, so I had to wear a respirator when work with it. After sanding, more body filler was spread on to fill in the small dips and holes. And then more sanding…repeat… Oh yea, I had to use a rotary tool to cut holes for mounting the mirror and some of the bristle hair. Because of the body filler, it took me an unnecessary four hours to mount the mirror.
  • No more cheap paints. I was forced to use it because of the allowed budget, but never again for my personal projects. Most colors took at least 2 coats for full coverage, which was a complete waste of time on my part.
  • No more Americana triple thick gloss glaze for the final gloss coat. Yes, it gives a super shiny glossy look, but applying it took way more time than necessary. It’s so thick that brushing it on was kind of like brushing honey onto a lion head. Imagine that…
  • This is minor, but if I could, I would use 3/8th inch gimp trim next time. I bought a roll of gold gimp trim on eBay that was listed as 3/8th inch, but when it came, it was half an inch! I still used it anyway, and the overall effect wasn’t too bad.
  • For the beard, I really liked the feel of the artificial human hair. Next time, I will try to get that material in bulk and maybe tie my own beard. The gluing method may not be as strong as the traditional method of attaching the beard using wire.
  • The pillow’s size was a huge mistake. I made it a bit too tall, which got in the way of the ears hoops that connect to the rope and elastic. This made the ears point outwards all the time.
  • The LED’s in the lighted eyes weren’t aligned. One was pointing downward more than the other, resulting in an uneven look. Next time, I will try using Chris Low’s method or devise my own.

On April 25th, Andy and I went to Chris Low’s house with Ace to have a little photo session with his lions! Soon after, his kids also jumped in.

Chris Low’s Lo An Kee restoration and Ace. Image taken by Chris Low.

Chris Low, a hobo (just kidding, it’s me), and Andy. Image courtesy of Chris Low.

Horse stance! Image courtesy of Chris Low.

Three generations of lion dancers. Image courtesy of Chris Low.

How comfortable! Image courtesy of Chris Low.

Posing with Ace. Image taken by Chris Low.

On April 26th, I brought Ace back to UC Irvine’s Southern Young Tigers during one of their practices. A Hoi Gwong ceremony was planned for that day, which featured Ace and another one of their new modern Fut San lions.

Eye-dotting the lions.

Ace adorned with golden flowers and red ribbon.

The saddest part of the night was when I realized that I spent 6+ years working on Ace, but I had to give it back not even a week after I finished him. There are a lot of memories attached to Ace that I will never forget.

Good bye, Ace.

Special thanks to my girlfriend, Annie Ngai, for helping me paint some parts of the lion and my good friend, Andy Ta, for helping me with the ornamental balls and attaching the bristle hair.

Analysis – America’s Got Talent – Lion Dance Me

Most of you who are reading this probably already know about Lion Dance Me’s appearance on America’s Got Talent these past few months. In case you missed it, here is the audition video:

Video courtesy of AmericasGotTalent.

And here is the quarterfinal video:

Video courtesy of AmericanBestTalent.

First off, I have to give major props to Lion Dance Me for promoting Chinese lion dance at a national level, and also for the hard work and training that they went through. I know I will never achieve their level in lion dance stunts, so it is quite humbling to watch them perform such hard routines on national television. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it past the quarterfinals. Good job for getting that far though!

In addition to the many things that went well, I saw a few things that might not have went so well. I also saw a few neutral things that can be debated about. Overall, their achievements can be discussed endlessly. Hopefully, this blog post will spark some meaningful discussions!

What went right:

  1. Difficulty of stunts – In their quarterfinal performance, the stunts were definitely hard enough to show that the team has talent. In addition to the difficulty of the stunts, doing them on top of poles that are several feet off the ground confirms the talent of the group.
  2. Continuing after a mistake – One of the worst things you can do while performing is to give up after a mistake. In the audition video, one lion slipped on the poles and fell off. The whole performance wasn’t shown but they did continue until the end of the performance.
  3. Synchronized ending – In their quarterfinal performance, all lions ended with a synchronized pop. In my opinion, a synchronized ending is a strong ending.

Neutral thoughts/opinions:

  1. Use of electronic music – In their quarterfinal performance, no lion dance music was used. Instead, a mix of Avicii’s Levels and some Asian drumming beat was used throughout the performance. Although I’m a huge fan of electronic music, I’m not sure it added anything special to the routine. I suspect that this was done because the judges told them to step it up and do something different.
  2. Emotions and expression – I realize that Lion Dance Me labels themselves as an “acrobatic act”, but I feel that they almost completely forgot about an important aspect of Chinese lion dancing – lion expressions. Lion dancing with emotions and expressions usually adds a new dimension to the performance. This might have benefited them.

What went wrong:

  1. Too many lions – Way too many lions were used during the quarterfinal performance. In Asian celebratory occasions, large numbers of lions perform at the same time to signify happiness. But when performing to showcase talent, I think two or three lions are enough. This way, the audience can focus on individual movements, hence understanding their true difficulty. With too many lions, all of them start to look similar after a period of time. At one point, it just looked like seven lions jumping up and down, back and forth on the poles.
  2. Choreography – With seven lions comes the need for good choreography. In my opinion, synchronized movements works best with multiple lions to impress an audience. Most of the stunts that they did seemed to be random and isolated. This is another reason why at one point, it looked like all seven lions were just jumping up and down, back and forth on the poles.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

I actually liked Howard Stern’s suggestion at the end of their quarterfinal performance. Imagine if there were two lions, one with the lion costume and one without, doing a completely identical and synchronized routine. This would show the true difficulty of the stunts. Most people don’t realize how hard lion dance stunts are because the lion costume hides everything that must occur to successfully perform a stunt. If one lion was masked and the other wasn’t, the audience and the judges would get to see how truly difficult lion dancing is.

What are your thoughts on Lion Dance Me’s performance on America’s Got Talent? Leave some comments below!

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

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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