Bluegrass Martial Arts 

Jun Bao

Jun Bao is the Kung fu system founded by James Ibrao. Combining Hung Gar, 7* Mantis,Tai Chi techniques and Traditional Forms from James Wing Woo.

James Wing Woo

Sifu James Wing Woo was born September 26, 1922, on the property of a Standard Oil refinery in Oleum California, north of Oakland. His father had a restaurant there and lived nearby with his wife and children. The Woo family would grow to eight boys (James was the second). Before it did, however, the Woos moved to China. It was 1928, and James was six. But his father had gotten involved in tong wars in the Bay Area, and, as James recalls, had “a price on his head.”

The Woos lived in Canton, the capitol of Kwantung province in the southern part of China, and, within a couple of years, James began learning Tai-Chi from a godfather and various family friends. “I was playing volleyball and I had friends who studied martial arts in the park.” He had plenty of potential mentors. In 1929, Japan invaded the northern part of China and many martial artists in Manchuria and Shanghai moved to Canton. “So I got to meet them and got interested in all of them.” By age 12, he began learning the art of fighting, Shaolin style. He also had a gym teacher who taught martial arts.

As the Japanese threatened to take Canton, the Woo family split up, some members staying as long as they could; others going to Kowloon, and the rest fleeing back to California. In 1938, James and a brother settled in San Francisco. The 16 year-old James attended school and found work as a waiter. He also found use for his martial arts education. “One day, a guy didn’t want to pay and skipped, and I went after him. He took a swing at me. I blocked and hit him, and one of the cooks looked at me and said, ‘You trained a little bit, huh?’ I said, ‘A little bit.’ He said, ‘Let’s see you do this.’ He comes at me. I was by the sink, I go down, and he goes over the sink. Needless to say, I didn’t have that job any more.”

Despite getting into fights worthy of the movies, he was interested in neither. He continued to work as a waiter, and, in 1942, became a military man. He’d been inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s speech after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, to join the Marines, but when he tried to sign up in Oakland on December 8th, 1941, he was told he’d be accepted only for mess duty. After getting into another fight with a restaurant customer, who led charges against him, James joined the Navy, enlisting in Winslow, Arizona. He did his boot camp training in Idaho and wound up as a ship’s cook, traveling to New Guinea and the Philippines.

Once, while on shore patrol on Treasure Island near San Francisco, he was in Chinatown and, sure enough, got into a fight. “I saw this couple fighting, and I wanted to break it up, and the girl hit me. And then, later on, years later, her girlfriend says to me, ‘Come, I want you to meet my girlfriend.’ I looked at her and said, ‘I know her. She hit me!’ We started going out to dances.” The girl’s name was Eve, and they would marry in 1951.

Out of the Navy by 1945, James took on a variety of jobs, including waiting tables, working in sales, peddling everything from Rena chinaware to automobiles. In the early‘50s, he was also a cable car conductor. Away from work, he practiced Tai Chi in local parks. Many evenings, he would visit a studio run by Lau Bun, who knew James’ father as a fellow member of the social organization, the Hop Sing Tong. James enjoyed spending time with professor Lau and his students, but preferred to work out by himself. One evening, he met a group of Kenpo Karate artists who were visiting from Los Angeles.

In the summer of 1960, James, along with a group of professor Lau Bun’s students, went to Los Angeles, staying with a prominent Kenpo Karate instructor in Pasadena. “I got enticed by this teacher, who was writing a book on Chinese martial arts” said James, who prefers not to identify the man by name. The instructor asked James if he could help him write the book.

After assuring his family of his plans, he returned to Pasadena and assisted the instructor on the book. James also began helping to teach the higher belt classes in the Pasadena gym, for free. James had never thought of himself as a teacher, but, as he reasoned, “I was staying there, and I wasn’t really doing anything.” Actually, he was giving the instructor information for his book, and he was having impact in his classes. “You look at these students,” he said, “and they’re all fast and sloppy. So I slowed them down and taught them forms.”

With the book finished, James went home to San Francisco, where he learned that the Pasadena instructor had found a publisher. However, according to James, it was a bad deal, and he declined to sign the contract. “So I was going to go back to San Francisco, and all these brown belt class students, the higher-ranked students said, ‘Don’t go back. We’ll find another place to open up, and you can teach there.”

James decided to move south, and, in 1961, the Academy of Karate Kung Fu opened in a large storefront at 5440 Hollywood Boulevard. “All the people came,” James remembers, including students of the Pasadena instructor. His wife Eve, with whom he would have three children, stayed in San Francisco, but would join him later. In 1963, he and a partner relocated to a new gym, at 5156 Hollywood Boulevard, and his school was renamed The Chinese Martial Arts Association. In 1986 he would move to Sunset Plaza and, finally, to his current location, where some longtime students continue his teachings.

In the 1970's, with Bruce Lee and other martial artists taking kung fu fighting to the big screen, James and his most accomplished students began drawing attention from Hollywood producers and directors. James got his first role in Sam Peckinpah's Killer Elite in 1975, after he'd almost tossed the director out of his studio. “One day I’m at 5156 Hollywood and I smell somebody coming in with liquor on his breath. I was ready to throw him out. Then his whole entourage came in. ‘Don’t you know who he is? That’s Sam Peckinpah.’ I didn’t know.”

James wound up playing “Tao Yi,” but notes that in all of the 15 roles he has had, from Killer Elite to Lethal Weapon 4 to a recent episode of the TV mystery series,"Monk", he never actually performed martial arts on screen. He has portrayed a priest, a criminal clan leader, an elder martial arts master, and 'a dead Chinese man'. He had never taken a single acting lesson. He said, “I just let it happen.”

James taught martial arts for 53 years until his death in 2014 at the age of 92.

James Ibrao

Sifu James Ibrao was born November 3, 1937 in the state of Hawaii in a city called Waialua. “In Waialua, every element of our lives was based around a sugar plantation which meant that everyone worked with one another, knew one another and respected one another. For seventeen years I had the advantage of having an extended family of nearly three thousand people. I believe that this element has given me an incredibly strong base and advantage in dealing with people because I came from such a strong foundation of respect for so many people.”

In addition, the positive development of the person came from the positive development of the entire group and so, common goals and traditional values were of the utmost importance. For instance, the development of the ego came from the the development of the ego of the entire community not just any one individual. “Perhaps this is why I have been able to exceed and excel in the learning and much more importantly, the teaching of the martial arts to so many people. I have always judged myself by the number of people I have been able to assist and not on my own "personal achievements.”

During this time James became very active in athletics and was able to make marks in every sport he played. “Strangely enough, out of all the sports I tried, basketball was my favorite. In fact, many of you may find this difficult to believe, but at 5"foot 9" I was able to slam dunk!”

At seventeen James had the opportunity to go to school in Boise, Idaho. “I found the climate to be too cold for me and I decided to return to Los Angeles.” From there, he tried his luck at Brigham Young University, “but again I found the climate was not to my liking.” James returned once again to Los Angeles where his life would change forever.

After being so active in sports, James found he needed a release. A friend, Bob Sarno, had an acquaintance named Ed Parker who was involved in the teaching of a new martial arts called Kenpo Karate. On the island, martial arts instructors had to be registered to teach and the only art he had been able to study was a little judo. “You can imagine my excitement at being exposed to the power, quickness, and innovative moves of Ed Parker who was literally a giant. It was more than just his stature, he had an aura of power and what many would call fearlessness.”

The next day, James joined Mr. Ed Parker and his four students, on their journey into the experience called Kenpo Karate. “I"m not sure whether it was natural ability or pure desire to learn, but I never found the intensive workouts to be too difficult. I was always trying to see and figure out what the next move would be. I always looked for the next logical step in the beautiful and deadly art taught by this dynamic and charismatic individual.”

Within weeks, James noticed that his already athletic build was beginning to grow and change. “Almost instantly, I gained weight and watched as my muscle structure began to change. I developed power and strength in my legs, arms and back and was amazed at how my shoulders widened. Of all this, perhaps the most important change came in my level of confidence. The power I felt was tremendous. There was nothing that I couldn't do. All this came from my complete and total immersion into this new art. I lived, ate and slept Kenpo Karate.” The year was 1956.

When James started his study of Kenpo Karate, there were only three belts, White, Brown and Black. “It is true that I was the first man to achieve Black Belt under Ed Parker and it is true that I achieved this goal in only nine months.” Back then, study was much more intensive and the judging of any artist was on the basics; ability, quality, coordination, speed and power of your techniques. In those days the only way to test your abilities was to really hit! While not very practical and in retrospect not very prudent, it did develop something in the early generation of Kenpo students that our current counterparts will never know.

Grand master James Wing Woo came into the picture in 1960 when Ed Parker and I went on a road trip to San Francisco to visit a few of the Chinese Martial Arts Schools. Ed immediately recognized Master Woo's talent and invited him down to Los Angeles to document his knowledge in books and to incorporate some of the characteristics of the Chinese systems into Parker"s Kenpo.

Many of the forms unique to Kenpo today were being created at this time. James Wing Woo had developed many of the Forms and Kata which would come to set the tone of the art for years to come, as well as some of the most powerful and deadly techniques in the system.

In 1961 James Ibrao was invited to scrimmage against the world famous Harlem Globetrotters. “After the scrimmage, I was asked to try out for the team. It was no surprise that I made the team. I do not say this to be conceited, it is only meant as a way to convey to you the level of confidence and ability that had been developed through the arts.”

James toured with the Globetrotters for two years, until 1964 and then returned to Los Angeles. I did not return to my studies with Ed Parker. I had made up my mind that I would begin to unlock the mysteries of the Chinese Martial Arts under James Wing Woo.


Bluegrass Martial Arts

2506 Plantside Dr, Louisville, KY 40299

(502) 499-4050