The lights in the arena are dark. Tickets have been purchased weeks in advance, the fans are eager to see a cavalcade of skating stars. Suddenly the speakers pump electric guitar riffs into the air. The crowd erupts into cheers. There's no question who is about to enter the rink: the "Ice Rocker" Canadian skating sensation Elvis Stojko.
When the 24-year-old Stojko glides onto the ice, the skating world watches in awe. Crowds gasp at the height of his jumps and hold their breath as he descends as if suspended by invisible strings. This two-time world figure skating champion and Olympic silver medalist's swaying, graceful movements and explosive quad-jumps have taken skating to its highest levels-the result of a lifetime of training to advance his sport.
However, outside the arena, far away from the ice and blades, Elvis Stojko is well on his way to advancing in another world, a world where he follows warriors before him in the hopes of carrying on the teaching of an ancient martial art: kung fu. In every respect a martial artist, he holds a black belt in Kempo Karate, but became a full-time kung fu student when introduced to the world of Hung Gar.
Just as his coach and choreographer are his pillars in the skating world, Elvis has two individuals guiding him on his martial arts path: Sifu Glen Doyle, a three-time Canadian Kung Fu champion who was responsible for exposing the skater to the kung fu world; and Doyle's Sifu, Mr James Lore (Lore King Hung) an 81-year-old Hung Gar stylist originally from Canada's west coast. Stojko has been studying with both men for more than six years, and continues to bring his training intensity from the skating arena to Toronto's Chinese Community Centre of Ontario in the hopes of adding a "distinctly Elvis" look to his martial art techniques.
Stojko met Doyle in 1989 when he was looking for training to add movement and flow to his skating programs. Since then, both have come a long way - so far, in fact, that they were asked to perform at the opening ceremonies of the 1995 World Wushu Championships in Baltimore, Maryland, which earned them not one, but two standing ovations.
After training in Kempo karate for eight years, Stojko had gained his black belt by the age of 16. But as his skating career flourished, the 5'7" skating sensation realized that because of its linear movements, karate was hindering his overall potential. "I wasn't learning any more and I wasn't getting ahead," Stojko says, "but when Glen introduced me to kung fu, it was totally different than karate, much more flowing in motion, not as linear or as stiff, so it seemed to work a lot better with my skating. It opened my eyes to a whole different world."
Elvis put inspiring levels of energy into his new-found passion. It was common for him to skate in the morning and afternoon, then meet with Sifu Doyle in the evening to train for another three hours. "Elvis' energy towards his training was, and is, unmatched by anyone else I've trained," says Doyle. "It's his dedication that sets him apart from a lot of other martial artists."
Doyle insists that people should really look at Stojko as a martial artist. According to Newfoundland-born Doyle, Elvis is as proficient a kung fu stylist as he is a skater. "So many people think it's just one of his hobbies," says Doyle. 'If they could come down to the club and watch us go through our workout, I'm sure they would change their minds."
According to Doyle's teacher, Sifu James Lore of the Jing Mo Kung Fu Club in Toronto, Canada-whose uncle began teaching him kung fu when he was eight years old-Elvis' style of kung fu, Hung Gar, is one of the "most deadly." In hung gar, the theory is, "Every time they move, they've got to hurt," the youthful-looking sifu says.
Sifu Lore, a native of Victoria, British Columbia, moved to Toronto in his late teens. He began teaching kung fu in the late 1940s, and in the 1960s earned worldwide recognition in the martial arts community because of his decision to teach kung fit to non-Chinese students, a first for any Canadian martial arts teacher at the time; (at about the same time, a sifu named Bruce Lee was accepting non-Chinese students in the United States). Sifu Lore's defiance of tradition appeared to set the standard for the next two generations of Jing Mo students.
Elvis Stojko's sifu, 30-year-old Glen Doyle, learned everything he knows about kung fu from Sifu Lore. From the moment he walked into Jing Mo kung fu club 13 years ago, Doyle was going against the grain. "I boxed when I was a kid," Doyle says, 'so every now and again I'd be in the middle of doing a kung fu technique and some boxing characteristic would find its way into what I was doing."
But Sifu Lore was never upset with his student for changing any techniques. As long as Doyle knew the classical styles and was using them along with his contemporary techniques, it wasn't a problem. Lore had a theory: 'If you think you can use it, use it. Something might not be good to me, but it's good for them... as long as you can use it, it's good."
Stojko remembers one of the main things that appealed to him about both Sifu Doyle and Sifu Lore was their open-mindedness. "Glen always wanted me to be myself," says Stojko. "He always encouraged me to speak my mind, and if the technique didn't feel quite right, he would change it on the spot, make it work for me.'
Though Sifu Lore keeps to the much more classical base of Hung Gar, Stojko states that he never felt any confusion going from Doyle's style of teaching to Sifu Lore's. 'Sifu Jimmy taught Glen, so in one respect, he taught me even before I met him," says Stojko. " Sifu Jimmy is always straightforward and direct. Being taught by someone of his ability is such an honor; everything is so pure, but he doesn't scold Glen and I for 'personalizing some of the techniques."
According to both Doyle and Stojko, in the martial arts world, some teachers aren't always as open to change as Sifu Lore is. "With most teachers," Doyle says, "you do it their way or you leave the club. But because Sifu is so open with me, that's why I'm so open with Elvis."
"As a teacher, [Doyle] allows me to be me," Stojko insists. "Instead of thinking of it so much as kung fu that you have to look a certain way or do it a certain way, you use your natural ability to enhance your style or make it your own to fit you." This is what Lore, Doyle, and Stojko all call the "evolution" of the martial arts-an evolution that they feel is inevitable.
"I say, 'different people, different ways,'" Lore explains. "You don't see the real old style anymore, but it doesn't bother me. There's no use fighting it. Every other thing is changing, too."
As Lore says that "there has to be change," Stojko adds, "If you don't change, you go backwards. There has to be change; there has to be evolution. If you try to keep it suppressed, it's not going to get better and it will kill itself. It will die." Doyle supports these thoughts by adding, "Change shows progression, it shows life. Without change, how can anyone appreciate what has been passed down?"
These three martial artists are taking a united front against stagnancy in the martial arts. Because society and public opinion is changing every day, they note, the martial arts must also adapt and change. "As long as we keep a classical base," says Stojko, "We'll always have something to gauge our individual techniques."
When they get together to train, Both Stojko and Doyle run through basics right up to the more intricate techniques. Nothing is overlooked as the two practice individual exercises including horse stances and other stationary techniques. They then team up to work on two-man movements, forms, and shadowboxing. "Glen never holds back anything when he teaches me," says the skater. "Whatever motion or movement he comes up with, he shares it with me right away."
It is this generous teaching style that Stojko is so grateful for. In the martial arts realm, oftentimes a sifu will not reveal everything he knows for fear that the pupil may become a superior martial artist. 'If I'm the master," Lore says, "and I hold back a few movements from you so I'll always be better than you, then you do the same to your students, by the time you've gone down a few generations you lose the five best things, and what good is that? I want my students to be better than me. Then martial arts will flourish-it won't die."
Both Sifu Lore and Sifu Doyle want the art of kung fu to continue improving, and that means teaching their students everything they know and more. "When he first started teaching me, Sifu said, 'my goal is to make you better than me,"' Doyle says, "and I said to Elvis the same thing. That makes the evolution continue."
'When Glen teaches me a technique, I try to make it as natural as possible," says Stojko. "Then a lot of times I'll get other movements from the ones I just learned, but they've come from inside me, and that makes them instinctual."
Elvis has no fears of returning to Sifu Doyle with modifications or added movements to techniques he's just been taught. "As long as the movements work and are a natural motion, I think it's great," says Doyle. "And if there is any question in my mind, I take it to Sifu Lore for the official verdict."
Both Elvis and Sifu Doyle always look to Sifu Lore for the guidance when their "evolutionary" techniques start to gain momentum and begin to follow numerous "body motion" pathways. "Like anything in life, if it gets confusing you go right back to the source and look at its purest form," says Doyle.
When Sifu Lore was taught the theories of Hung Gar kung fu, he learned that every move must hurt his opponent. "Even if I block," he says, "I'll hurt you."
Technique-wise, Sifu's much more direct than I am," Doyle adds. "If somebody attacks Sifu, in the span of a movement and a half he's pretty much caused some major damage. His way of thinking is 'to win,' and the way to win is your opponent is [knocked] out."
Stojko is the lucky recipient of two generations of kung fu knowledge, having been taught both classical and contemporary movements, forms, and ideas by both Sifu Lore and Sifu Doyle. "With my movements and techniques I look more like Glen in a lot of ways," Stojko says, "but you can still see where the roots come from."
Keeping the Hung Gar roots close to heart has allowed both Stojko and Doyle to walk outside the "classical line" and come up with their own ways of thinking with regards to combat and self defense.
Doyle's theory about the fighting arts, which he calls "Stealing the Energy," came to him one day while practicing with his teacher. Sifu Lore "blocked my punch and held my arm, and I was trying to break free," Doyle explains. "He said 'Why are you wasting your time going where I'm strong? Just kick me.'" In that moment, inspiration struck, and Stealing the Energy was born.
"I'm not teaching something that hasn't been done before," he continues. "Stealing the Energy is in everyone's style. I'm not doing anything new and I haven't invented anything - I'm just explaining it in a different way. Stealing the Energy is redirecting your opponent's strength. If your energy is high, I go low. If your energy is low, I go high," Doyle says.
Doyle's Stealing the Energy theory isn't taught in classical Hung Gar kung fu, but he insists that all the great fighters have been subscribing to the theory for years without being aware of it. "They all came from a classical background, and believed that's why they were good fighters-because they did the classical," he says. "But, really, it came from within them."
Stojko developed his theory about combat from his knowledge of Stealing the Energy, his own kung fu philosophies, and his knowledge of motion from skating. It's called the "Bubble theory," its idea being that in a confrontation, both a kung fu stylist and his opponent are in their respective "bubbles" with the air around them; they both Must Move within these bubbles. "When you have all opponent, you learn to radar how close he is," Stojko explains. "Where his bubble ends and touches yours, you can kind of 'feel where he is; without even touching the person you can kind of get a sense of what he's going to do or get a reaction or kind of get a feel for what his attack's going to be."
Doyle recalls the moment when Elvis' theory came to be. "I went to Ottawa to watch him compete in the Canadian figure skating championships," he says. "We had just finished a workout and "I was in my room checking messages when Elvis busted through the door; the theory just came to him while he was getting ready to go to the arena."
Stojko and Doyle stayed up the better part of the evening working out and trying to refine Elvis' personal fighting theory and although Stojko's theory is still "developmental" right now, Doyle fully supports him and works with Stojko on all his ideas and philosophies.
Since Stojko already had a classical karate background when they met, Doyle began teaching his student contemporary theories of both kung fu and Stealing the Energy before showing him the classical forms. In fact, Stojko only began learning the classical forms about two years ago-four years after his first meeting with Doyle. But the two contemporary theories don't mean that classical Hung Gar is dying; both Doyle and Stojko are adamant that the classical techniques are the foundation of their styles and that regardless of how much kung fu continues to evolve, the classical styles will continue to be the base for their art.
"If you don't have the original, you have nothing to work with, no putty to change," Stojko says.
"Elvis loves the classical because it magnifies and improves his contemporary, which he's been training for longer, furthers Doyle. "If somebody just goes contemporary for their whole lives, I don't think they get the full benefit of what they're learning. It's like me trying to teach you to write without teaching you the alphabet. You can memorize the words, but you won't know where they came from, so you won't be able to modify them."
And be they classical or contemporary, Doyle believes that both forms and movements can be economized for maximum output and efficiency. "Perfection is achievable in the respect that the technique can only get better," he maintains. "A perfect technique is a technique that works."
Although Stojko's original reason for meeting with Glen Doyle was simply to put kung fu into his skating techniques and programs, he fell in love with the martial arts and the prospect of having both Doyle and, indirectly, Lore as his teachers. "It feels good to know they know what martial arts is about - not just their style, but what martial arts gives them: the enthusiasm, the power, and the confidence," Stojko says. "Everything you gain from it ... it's just an experience that I don't get anywhere else.
"The concept and the way I go about things is a martial art way of thinking," Stojko continues. "It's a very strong discipline: Work hard, do your best, enjoy it, and attack whatever the problem is. If you're afraid of' something, face it, go after it. That's how I approach skating and I think that's what got me so far."
When Stojko was beginning his skating career, he had to struggle to be taken seriously because he lacked traditional ballet-like style and movements on the ice, but he defied tradition and persevered. Because of the opposition Stojko had to face, his teacher isn't worried about the road ahead when it comes to his career as a martial artist. "I think Elvis will make it because of his determination and his will, because he's already gone through it once in his skating," Doyle says. "He had to blow them out of the water to get his recognition, and unfortunately he's going to have to do that in the martial arts, too. I think Elvis will make a name for himself in the martial arts world."
Though it may be some time until people warm up to the idea of Elvis off the ice, it is slowly becoming evident to the martial arts world that Stojko has what it takes to become one of their own.