By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
When performing a side kick or a roundhouse kick, Allen Chinn can get his foot to reach five feet up from the ground.
In his early 20s, when the local martial arts community referred to him as a “black sheep martial artist” for developing his own unique style called yee jong kune do, he could reach higher than six feet from the ground.
Chinn, 53, grew up in Seattle’s Beacon Hill district. He is proud of his 45-year career as a leader in the city’s martial arts community.
Because his father, James, had trained in “choy li fut” kung fu under Grandmaster Cheong Mo and enjoyed target shooting, it wasn’t long before Chinn found himself enjoying the same interests as a child.
Even though his father first taught martial arts to his younger brother, Steven, Chinn begged his father to teach him as well. Between his father’s stories and instructions, Chinn was an eager kung fu student at the age of 8.
However, there was always one challenge that made training difficult for him — he suffered from attention deficit disorder (ADD). In 1964, this lifelong brain condition had no official name, but his mother nick
named him “sang malai” — Toisonese words for “wild monkey.”
Learning new techniques was easy, and it captivated him, but repeating those techniques led to inattention or what he describes as his mind becoming “bored and all over the place.”
“In my teens, I was training for two, three hours, sometimes four hours a day because that was my video game,” he admitted. “The main thing [for all families dealing with ADD] is to have an open mind and to love the individual,” he pointed out. “The open mind is that this person is a little different, and so, you can’t put everybody in the same box. ADD is just another box that people are put in.
“Things I was interested in, I would zoom in on. I’d be super successful. For other stuff, it would have to be hammered in all the time,” he said. Despite ADD, he has lived his life with perseverance. He supplemented his training by reading several martial arts magazines and studying photographs of other martial artists in action. His reading material included the writings of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.
“As an American-born Chinese, there have also been issues with my inability to speak Chinese. Most people understand, but occasionally, I have had some Chinese immigrants that looked down on me for not being able to speak Chinese.”
Because of his talent in martial arts, he desired to become an instructor. As an 11-year-old at Van Asselt Elementary School, he taught one of his friends. Six years later, he taught a group with a “lot of Asian people” at the Jefferson Community Center’s large Social Room.
Even when he became a supervisor for the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation in 1984, he maintained a busy schedule with his involvement in teaching, tournaments, and exhibitions. He retired after 25 years in the department.
With even more ideas and concepts in his head, Chinn decided in 1988 to take yee jong kune do and transition it into yee jong pai kung fu, a new style made up of “one traditional yet non-classical style and one modern combat style.”
His 127-page book, “A Kung-Fu Master’s Journey: The Life and Martial Arts Experiences of an Asian American,” has been recently released. His first attempt as an author occurred 35 years ago, but “life and its many bumps and curves delayed my writing until now.”
He adds, “When I retired in January, I started to have time [to write it]. When you start looking at it as trying to trailblaze, trying to create something from very little, then anybody can read it and actually understand it. We all have really interesting stories. We have a history that nobody understands, and we’ll never sit down and talk about it because who can listen for that many hours?”
In the book, Kregg Jorgensen wrote, “… only [Chinn’s] students and close friends can best tell you of his great generosity in time, talent, and spirit.”
Filled with pictures, Chinn’s book tells the story about his successes as well as his devastating losses — two divorces and the deaths of his parents.
He is the father of sons Jason, 29, and Brandon, 25.
The “high level of coordination from training in kung fu hand movements and weaponry led me to be successful as an adult in a large variety of sports, including competitive basketball, volleyball, and table tennis,” he said about his current athletic activities. His upcoming books, due in 2010, will be about table tennis and depression. ♦