History of Grand Master Leo Sebregts and the establishment of the Shaolin Martial Art Center:
Grand Master Leo Sebregts childhood:
Grand Master Leo Sebregts was born at the end of the Second World War. His foster parents were poor, there was no food and he was sickly most of his early years due to malnutrition and abuse. "If not for the help and care of my teachers, I would perhaps not have been here today. Chinese Kungfu and traditional medicine made me the person I am today, strong and very healthy."
"My years of learning started in Belgium, Antwerp, my country of birth. They were hard years but the good time I had with my teachers made them worthwhile. Luck being on my side, I befriended the Leong Cheung family in 1951 and they taught me Chinese Kungfu. Not even my own family knew of my training until one day, I must have been fourteen or fifteen, my so called brother tried to beat me up yet again. Even though I did not try to hurt him, only to defend myself, he got the fright of his life and I left home for good, realizing I could never be who they were. In 1967 I decided to leave Belgium. My plans were to travel the world, starting in Africa ,moving on to America and so on."
Arriving in South Africa:
The first visit Grand Master Leo Sebregts made on arriving in South Africa was to the Chinese community. Luckily his Chinese teacher had a large restaurant in Belgium and besides teaching Grand Master Leo Sebregts Kung Fu, he taught him the art of cooking and doing domestic chores. Thus he was able, in the late sixties, to find a job in a Chinese restaurant called the 'Hong Kong Restaurant' where he met Jerry Ho. Together they started catering for private parties, mostly European. It was hard work, often keeping them up till the early hours of the morning, but it also kept them out of mischief.
When Grand Master Leo Sebregts met Jerry's niece Barbara, he realized that she was the women of his dreams. Due to the strict apartheid rules of those days, it was difficult for them to meet, Barbara being Chinese and Grand Master Leo Sebregts being European. Not only did they have to hide from the authorities, mixed marriages being unheard of, it was also very difficult for Barbara's parents to accept a non Chinese, non South African into their home. Despite all these difficulties, they were married in the early seventies.
Starting the Northern Dragon Kung Fu School:
In 1970 Grand Master Leo Sebregts, proposed the opening of a Chinese Kung Fu school to his brother in law, Jerry. He wanted them to share their arts with the rest of the world. Jerry laughed, pointing out to him that not only would most outsiders never understand, there was also no money to be made teaching Martial Arts. Despite this Grand Master Leo Sebregts opened his first school in Johannesburg. It was called the Northern Dragon and only accepted Chinese students. The Chinese community did not accept non Chinese students in those days and would not allow Europeans to attend private Chinese functions. However, when Grand Master Leo Sebregts, then known as Sifu Leo, started teaching at his new school, away from the Chinese club, he soon started getting requests from non Chinese students. He wondered if an outsider would ever truly understand the ancient traditions of Chinese Kung Fu, but decided that since he, himself was of Belgium blood, he would give it a chance. He would lay down very strict rules and those who disobeyed would immediately be expelled.
After many hours of hard work SiFu Leo's tuition finally started paying off. He was very strict, not allowing his students to ever disobey the basic principles, humbleness, patience, honesty, tranquility, modesty and above all - maintaining inner peace. The main aim was to promote Chinese Kung Fu, and numerous fund raising events were held with the help of his Kung Fu Demo team. A strong relationship was formed with the Chung Wah Sports association and today's Shaolin Martial Arts Centre still maintains this bond. Great honor was bestowed on the school by the visit of the most senior and well respected member of the Chinese community.
Changing the school name to the Shaolin Martial Arts Centre:
In 1977, SiFu Leo changed the name of his school to the Shaolin Martial Art Centre C.C. He felt that this name was more accessible to the general public, due to the commercial Kung Fu movies frequently mentioning Martial Arts but hardly ever mentioning Wushu or Kuoshu. Sifu Leo felt the name of a school was not the important thing. What was important was that the art was being taught in the traditional Chinese way. In those days the school taught mainly a style known as the Leung Cheung system. Since the 1980 the teachings were enhanced by SiFu Leo's added knowledge of acupuncture, bone setting, pressure points and other traditional Chinese medicines.
The School has had many interesting students, including the National Fire Arms Association( NAFTA ), the Johannesburg Traffic Department and SAP divisions. They were taught a self defense program spanning 3 - 4 years.
Becoming internationally recognized:
In 1986/1987 Brendon Lai visited South Africa on a fact finding mission. He was interested in bettering our connection with martial arts in the United States. The Shaolin Martial Arts Centre was invited to participate in the 1989 USA nationals, acknowledging both their style and their teacher - Sifu Leo Sebregts. Not only was being invited to this prestigious event a great honor, Sifu Leo was also introduced to many Kung Fu Masters from all over the globe. The event was a memorable one, filled with excitement and anxiety.
The South African team did very well, but due to the apartheid sanctions their every move was frowned upon. The team had to prove themselves and keep their heads high whilst being ignored by the spectators Luckily the committee was very supportive and gave the team the motivation to carry on. After this event South African team was invited to compete globally and traveled thousands of miles. The team started earning a good name for themselves and were always commended for their discipline and courtesy. The team motto was "To win the hearts and souls of others with true respect and humbleness, knowing that this way one truly wins".
Throughout these years, Sifu Leo invited Master Brandan Lai to South Africa. The seminars given by Master Brandon Lia, on the Swartruggens farm of Sifu Leo, encouraged the students to train even harder. Sifu Leo also wanted Master Brandan to experience the development of Chinese Martial Arts in South Africa. Although they gave no seminars at the farm, the consulate of Taiwan made a visit to the centre. Master Brandan Lai now made Sifu Leo aware of his standing in the world of the Martial Arts and the conduct required of him. He predicted that the time was near when the rest of the world would realize just how brilliant the South African team really was.
Â The first SA Springbok team.
In 1989 the school competed both in Switzerland, at the Rolly Krauer Wing Chun Kung Fu School outside Zurich, and the USA National Championships. In Switzerland they disciplined themselves practicing on their own, while also spending time sight seeing. Rolly, their host provided them with a 'fun' bus and his seniors accompanied the team throughout the tour.
They left Switzerland to compete in the USA National Championships in Houston. The competition was a turning point in the teams apartheid sanctioning. Other competitors believed that the only black team member, Peter Bopape, was brought with to do the team's 'dirty work'. Peter, however, has been with the school for over seven years and after competing brilliantly, the USA Chinese Kung Fu Federation had no choice but to accept the team for what they were; supportive, hardworking, honest and friendly. The banquet held after the event left Sifu Leo proud as him and his students were given a standing ovation, recognizing their contribution throughout the event.
Although they won the barehand group event and came second in the weapons group event, they won no individual awards, but good friendships were made and they returned inspired to make it happen, filled with enthusiasm and dedication. Over the following years of competing, they earned respect and shared their knowledge throughout the USA, China and Europe. Grand Master Brandan Lai introduced SiFu Leo to Mr. Fan Chunhe of the Shandong Wushu Association, a well known and respected Master in China.
Promoting Chinese Kung Fu/Wushu in South Africa:
In 1990 a good relationship was formed between many Chinese and South African Martial artists. They were working towards a common goal, to enrich and promote Chinese culture and to introduce the art of Chinese Kung Fu/Wushu into South Africa. Master Brandan Lai kept Si-Fu Leo informed on how Chinese Kung Fu should be taught. He helped turn Sifu Leo's dream into a reality.
Sifu Leo attended seminars held by Grand Master Adam Shu around San Francisco Bay area and exchanged knowledge with him. He also met with Grand Master Poi Chan who asked his advice regarding the recognition of a person, Miller Roberts, who had visited his temple claiming to have been part of the Wah Lum Poi Chan.
Competing in the USA, 1991/92:
1991 was a year of change...Much upgrading and meetings were held regarding the establishment of a better Chinese Martial Arts body. This was the year that Chinese Martial Arts became recognized Internationally. Invitations received from all abroad generated much enthusiasm. The team was invited to compete in the Tat Mau Wong International Chinese Martial Arts Championships and Masters Exhibition, where Sifu Leo Sebregts became an official Judge and Referee. He was awarded for his outstanding performance in the Masters Exhibition.
The team, appointed by the World Federation's President, Che Cheng Chiang, then moved on to compete in the International Kung Fu Federation World Cup held in Spain. They came home with first, second and third places earned in the competition. Sifu Leo eldest son, Frank Sebregts, became an official judge and South African representative for the International Kung Fu Federation. In 1992 first, second and third places were once again won by the 'Walt Disney Team' in Orlando, Florida.
Competing in China 1993:
In 1993 the Shaolin Martial Art Center was invited to compete in China. The start of the tour had a nightmarish quality. With no tour guide or translator they had to try booking forwarding flights. Much confusion arose when officials from the Wushu Association arrived, to pick them up at the wrong airport. When they eventually reached their destination, Sifu Leo was filled with excitement. He was going to meet the entire Wushu Grandmasters Association with members coming from Yentai, Jinan, Hebai and China.
The promotional event took place in the University of Jinan and Sifu Leo gave a demonstration lasting about 45 minutes. Afterwards he received congratulations from all members of the Chinese Shandong Wushu Association.
Sifu Leo had discussions with Master Fan Chunhe, ex Secretary-General of Shandong Wushu research and development Promotional Centre, organizing many Kung-Fu seminars and promoting competitions locally and internationally in order to represent the South African branch. Master Fan taught Sifu Leo many secrets of Chinese Wushu.