Dead at 93
FOSTER CITY, Calif. — Kung-fu master Donald Mar Lai, who studied several kung-fu styles with some of China’s greatest masters, died here Jan. 22. He was 93.
Master Lai was one of the last of his generation, having been a direct disciple of several leg-endary kung-fu masters. Before he reached the age of 16, master Lai had studied hung gar and choy lay fut. His hung gar instructor was Lee Bein and his choy lay fut instructor was Tarn Sam.
Master Lai said that Tarn Sam’s forearms were so hard and powerful that no one in the school could exchange more than ten forearm blows with him.
When he turned 16, master Lai enrolled at the Kwangtung Chin Woo (Ching Wu) Athletic Association. Master Lai studied the mi tsung (my jong) or lost track style under Hou Tung-ko, the son of Hou Yuan-chia, who was the founder of the Chin Woo Association in Shanghai. He also learned the lo han style from Sun Yu-feng and the praying mantis style from Lo Kuang-yu.
In 1930, the Kowloon branch of the Chin Woo Association offered master Lai a teaching position. During his tenure at Chin Woo, master Lai met many famous grandmasters, one of which was Lu Wei-chang. Grandmaster Lu was known as the Rice Bucket Sage, because of his hearty appetite.
Master Lai would later open a successful restaurant called Nam Yuen in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
After teaching for five years at Chin Woo, master Lai moved to the United States in 1935, where he taught martial arts in the Chinese community and helped his martial arts friends establish studios.
When master Lai was 84, he fell while practicing the extremely difficult dragon form of paqua chang. Master Lai fully recovered, although he sus tained brain damage in the fall and doctors gave him just a five percent chance of survival. This miraculous recovery was a tribute to his fitness and tenacity as a person.