Sifu Alex Lamas
When he was 12 years old, Alex Lamas started learning martial arts to combat school bullies who his teachers weren’t prepared to deal with. Now as a ‘Sifu’ himself, with students of his own, he reflects on the importance of martial arts in his own life and why they’re so integral to Bond, from Fleming right up the the films of Daniel Craig.
Bond wakes up with Thai women wiping his brow. He soon realizes that he’s in some sort of martial arts school. Students in Karate gis line the walls as the master in Chinese robes comes and takes his seat at the head of the dojo (I know, it’s a bonkers scene)…
Two combatants in Thai uniforms grab double swords and fight in the style of Pencak silat (an Indonesian martial art) to the death. He knows this is serious now. After a Karate demo, Bond is brought before that senior student. They bow and Bond kicks him in the face out cold! Another even more senior student in a black gi rises from his cushion and the school chants his name: Chula! Chula! They bow but Chula keeps his eye on Bond. They fight and Chula gets the best of Bond. Bond has fighting skills but Chula has the edge. Bond does manage to get away and flees through a window to make his escape, only to run into a Kung Fu melee with two teenage girls coming to his rescue. This scene from The Man With the Golden Gun was in response to the Kung Fu craze of the 1970s following Bruce Lee’s iconic film, Enter the Dragon.
The movie Bond has always had fighting skills, even if ill-defined, but in the books Bond had a knowledge of boxing and Judo. In the book Goldfinger, Bond was compiling a manual of martial arts for his fellow MI6 agents. In the movies, martial arts did not make an appearance in Bond’s repertoire until Casino Royale (2006). In Casino, it was combination of Krav Maga and Kali, Quantum of Solace again more Kali, Skyfall was the first time Bond uses Kung Fu, in his fight with Patrice in Shanghai. From there, Bond’s fighting style was a mix of Krav Maga, Kali, Kung Fu and Tai Chi, as these were the systems Daniel Craig learned to do his fight scenes.
All my life I’ve wanted to learn Kung Fu. Partially because of the 70s craze and partially for my fascination with Chinese culture and the 70s TV Show Kung Fu with David Carradine. As a child I was small for my age and when I entered middle school (aka Junior high) I was bullied… A LOT! Barely a week went by when I was not assaulted in one form or another. After a particularly brutal beating, where I was left on the floor covered in blood, my mother had enough. Schools of the 70s were of the mindset that boys will be boys and rarely punished the offenders. My mom took me to a local Taekwondo school. I was 12. I could smell the sweat, the floor was hard old wood and kicking pads lined the walls. It wasn’t Kung Fu but it was close enough and I needed it! I spent the better part of a year kicking, punching and sparring and, on the weekends I sparred with adults. They took it easy on me but not that easy. I got knocked down a few times.
My senior year in middle school things did not change. I still got pushed, shoved and verbally abused. Then one day a kid took a swing at me and returned it with a spinning back kick to the ribs and knocked the wind out of the offender. The teacher saw everything but, knowing I was just defending myself, I did not get in trouble (although she did give a few obligatory Bruce Lee squeals with Karate chop hands raised!) The result was the school kids now knew I had skills and any attack would be countered. I spent the rest of the year safe from any physical danger at least.
As I grew bigger, my desire for Kung Fu never diminished. Through college I tried Shotokan Karate and Judo and joined the saber fencing team. After college, I needed to find that elusive Kung Fu school and, as luck or fate would have it, I found it in the very town I was living in at the time. Walking in, I did not get the same Zen dojo experience of my youth. This looked like a living room with couches and a big screen TV. However, it had windows to the workout area. In Chinese it’s called a Kwoon. The teacher (Sifu in Cantonese) was a middle aged man of obvious Chinese ethnicity. He was quiet and calm and had his kids playing at his feet. In the far corner of the Kwoon was a full display of weapons, staffs, swords, and all sorts of deadly objects I only previously seen in Kung Fu movies. But these were real and I was home.
His name was Sifu Shue Yiu Kwan and, for the next 25 years, I would place myself by my teacher’s side. For the first four years I needed to build a foundation, so I took class every day, 6 days a week for 4 hours a day. I would eventually slow down to about 4 or 5 days. But, to this day, I train some part of Kung Fu every day. It might be for a few minutes or 2 hours but it has become part of me, part my life, part of my very being. It’s called Fu Jow Pai (Tiger Claw) and it has rich history and lineage going back hundreds of years and even has connections to the famed Shaolin Temple, but that’s another story for another time.
In 2017 my beloved Sifu passed away of cancer but the lessons he taught me both in martial arts and as a human being will always be present. Every time I practise I am spending time with him. His spirit lives in the Kung Fu forms I do.
Martial arts has given me a second life, a life of service, dedication, profound discipline and a new profession. I’m a sifu now with my own students. Martial arts taught me to be ruthless and kind, fierce and compassionate but, most of all, connected to everyone and everything and to take nothing for granted. A true martial art will not only give you fighting skills – any fighting system will give you that. But a true martial art will give you wisdom, peace and knowledge of yourself and the world around you. If you just want to learn how to fight that’s fine. But if you want to be a martial artist, it will take years of hard work, dedication and discipline that will reshape you into a better person. You will become more aware, fit and wise beyond anything you could have imagined for yourself. Ian Fleming knew this; he too studied Uechiryu Karate and he put those qualities into his greatest creation. For a guy who drinks as much as he does, James Bond still has sharp wits and an acute awareness of the world around him, people he encounters and all the present dangers that await him. He’s mostly aware of who he is, his flaws, his strengths and the true nature of his own character. I would like to think it was his martial art practice that helped him hone these qualities. Qualities that anyone of us could cultivate, especially with the martial arts.
For information of me and Fu Jow Pai:
To see videos of my adventures, go to my YouTube channel: Always Say YES to Adventure! www.youtube.com/@yestoadventure007
And to my Instigram: @sifu_lamas
Last modified: 3 January 2024