• Steve Gray / Starjumper 7

Masters of the Way - Dave Harris

Updated: Jun 17

Dave Harris was one of Tchoung’s top students. He didn’t just learn the tai chi forms though, he also learned how to use it for fighting. Real fighting. Deadly fighting. Dave was also the number one adopted son of Mr. Yueng.

His full name was David John Harris. You should know that in case you look him up on Youtube, because there is a different Dave Harris that comes up, who is a karate master, who likes to break concrete blocks set up in stacks with spaces in between, which is cheating. I’ll bet he is a nice guy, but his self defense methods are boorish compared to my Dave Harris, who himself was a professor at Central Seattle Community College, near Greenlake in Seattle. He was an art professor, and the main art that he taught was clay sculpture. His sculptures were a little strange in one way, and strangely capturing in another way. They seemed to have an almost shamanic tone to them. I would say Dave was more advanced than Bruce Lee simply because he had so many more decades to practice and perfect what Mr. Yueng gave him. Bruce needed to focus more on flashy moves in long extended fights for the movies, whereas Dave got to focus on the effective and efficient ways of ending a fight in which he hardly moves and the fight is over in one second. That kind of real life stuff obviously doesn’t play well in martial arts movies, in which the public generally expects to see lots of extended fight scenes.

I met Dave right at the start when I met Andy, when they were practicing in Woodland Park, and I saw him many times after that. I saw his amazing demonstrations and went to observe a couple of classes at different times. What he could do was just incredible. Someone would attack him and he’d make them look like spastics, completely helpless spastics who’d then flop on the floor in some helpless position. It was really funny to see him do this, sometimes hilarious, and in the beginning I burst out laughing a few times. Once, it started with a couple of chuckles, and then Dave must have gotten into it because he made the attacker look extra silly, and I burst out laughing. Steve Smith, who was playing the part of Uke, or attacker, got up and gave me a stern look and said, “What so funny!” No more laughing after that.

I was never interested in self defense nor in learning any martial arts, and I did not get into fights as a kid or adult. The main reason for this was because physically I’m non confrontational. and I didn’t like the idea of getting hit. It turns out that the martial art named after Mr. Yueng, Yueng Chuan, or Fook Yueng Chuan, is founded on that very same idea of not getting hit, plus ways of ending the fight in one second. After seeing the amazing things Dave could do I became interested in it mainly from a scientific standpoint, to learn how to do such tricky things even to seasoned fighters. Plus, it was obvious the guys were having a lot of fun practicing and were not getting hurt. It did look like a lot of fun.

Dave had a bit of a reputation, so sometimes big bad seasoned fighters would come, sometimes from across the country, to try Dave out. These guys were big tough brutes, seasoned MMA fighters, and they didn’t believe any of the old fashioned internal stuff would have any effect on them.

It was the same every time. Dave would stand there with his hands crossed lightly over his belly and invite the visitor to punch him, or better said, try to punch him. The primary thing Dave would do is yield a little bit to suck them in, then he would manipulate the person very lightly, in order to steal their balance. I’ve felt this myself. When you try to punch him and he steals your balance, it’s like the world suddenly gets pulled out from under your feet and you don’t know which way is up. It is a completely helpless feeling, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t regain your balance, so there’s no way you can fight. Invariably the big bad martial artists would end up in a heap on the floor, and almost always, they simply could not believe it. Since Dave had such a light touch the attacker could feel nothing he did. And since self defense is based on feeling, they were unable to discern what he had done to them. They would get up, dust themselves off, announce that it was some kind of trick or accident, and walk out the door with their noses in the air and their dignity intact. Well, it was a trick. It’s all “tricks” designed to take advantage of the natural instincts of fighters, and those tricks work very well.

One time this guy came to attack Dave at the beginning of a class. He tried to punch him and on the floor he went. Dave was good enough to put anyone down without hurting them. I myself am not that good. The faster someone attacks you, the more difficult it is to avoid hurting them. Then the guy got up, exclaimed: “Far out!”, and tried to kick him. So down he went again. The guy loved the experience and kept attacking Dave, to the point he was interfering with class time and Dave couldn’t get him to stop. Dave eventually got tired of it so when the guy tried to punch him again Dave broke his arm, and then had to take him to the hospital.

Dave was amazing and everything he did was impressive, but one thing that stood out to me was how easy it could be to be deadly and damaging. If one does not want to kill another but rather give them the gift of living with their karma, there are hundreds of ways to easily and permanently ruin an attacker’s body, giving them something to think about. After one class a student chimed in with: “All the most diabolical things I ever learned, I learned from Dave.”

I didn’t start with Dave until rather late in his teaching career. When I was going to Mr. Yueng’s house for Chi Kung practice, once I asked him if I could take self defense lessons from Dave. He said “No” in a very definitive manner, then he said, “He cwazy.” Well, Dave didn’t seem too cwazy to me. He did get a bit emotional at times, usually in a happy way.

The main reason Mr. Yueng said no, is because he wanted me to focus on the energy and spiritual side of things and not get lost on a detour into the self defense side.

Dave’s wife came to class often, and took hundreds of videos of Dave demonstrating different aspects of the art. By the time I became his student his wife had a rather serious case of Alzheimers and he had to bring her to class in order to keep an eye on her. Sometimes she would wander out the door and he would go bring her back. Sometimes she forgot why she was there and got a little upset. This was an added difficulty, and you could see it was stressful for him. When I came he also had less students. Maybe some of them faded away because they could see he was getting upset, but the guys who were there when I joined were all amazingly capable and advanced. I was a beginner surrounded by masters. Amazing luck really, and I really enjoyed learning and practicing the methods. I brought Larry to class, but he dropped out after a couple of months. I was with Dave for a little over half a year, then I dropped out for six months to go live in the mountains around the Leavenworth area of the Washington Cascades, a few miles up from the quaint little village of Cashmere. I had a little house trailer there. I felt guilty about not telling him that I was going to take a break, I didn’t think he would care, but it was a mistake. I should have told him I was building a house there on some acreage in a beautiful rocky canyon populated with Ponderosa Pine trees. It was a beautiful area but it did get very cold in the winter.

When I came back from the mountains to Seattle, with the intention of resuming classes with Dave, one of his students told me that he was dead. It appears the problem with his wife’s health plus his dwindling student numbers was very upsetting to him and he could no longer manage. So he went into his front yard, put a shotgun to the side of his head, and pulled the trigger.

Tom, who was the senior student, took over teaching, and to me he seemed every bit as good as Dave. But he tended to work on things that Dave hadn’t focused on much. There is no way anyone could hit him, and he could manipulate them like rag dolls. Later, Tom moved out of the Green Lake Neighborhood Center and started teaching in his dentist’s office, which was far away for me to drive. Accordingly, I didn’t go to many of his classes there before leaving for Ecuador.

A kung fu brother of mine shared the following story about Dave:

An Experience I had with Dave Harris involved River Dan DeBolt. Dave was demonstrating some principal and Dan was the attacker. Every time Dan attacked he would end up on the floor. Many times without being touched by Dave. Every time he got up Dan would be madder and attack faster and harder. Sometimes he did this immediately on getting up in order to give Dave minimal time to respond. Dan was never able to even touch Dave. Later a group of us asked Dan about his actions. He said he had to get up and attack again, otherwise he would have just curled up into a ball and quit. It was an interesting lesson to me about using anger to stay alive in an overwhelming situation.

From the book - A Lineage of Dragons


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