The Enlightened Journey of Dr. Maung Gyi
While Maung Gyi was influenced by each fighting approach to which he was exposed, there grew within him a profound interest in the Cobra Style. He actually spent an extended period living with a Cobra master who raised these animals for their venom. Maung Gyi would subsequently become a Cobra master himself and teach the system to others. Unable to ignore the warrior spirit within, Maung Gyi also delved deeply into techniques of the Bull and Boar Styles, effectively integrating certain techniques into the sport of Lethway (i.e., Burmese kickboxing). He competed in dozens of matches against fighters throughout Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Laos, and Malaysia. Eventually, the youthful Gyi became a champion fighter and gained international recognition for his skill.
. . . . . . the 'warrior spirit' was being well served . . . . . .
Gyi the 'Wizard'
Maung Gyi's 'enlightened journey' continued, as he moved to the United States in the late 1950s. His primary purposes for relocating were to pursue higher education and to support the humanitarian efforts of his uncle, the late U Thant, who served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1962-1971. While employment and educational opportunities attracted Maung Gyi to the states, advancement of the Bando system may well have been the compelling force that kept him in America.
. . . . . . the 'warrior' was becoming a 'wizard' in his new home . . . . . .
Shifting his energy away from survival and competition, Maung Gyi enrolled in several prestigious institutions-including Johns Hopkins and Harvard Universities-subsequently attaining both law and doctoral degrees. While working as a linguist in Washington, D.C., Gyi introduced a modified version of the Bando system to a few select students in 1960. He also trained secret service personnel, FBI staff, and security officials during this phase. A few years later, he organized the first Bando club in the states at the American University in D.C. Many students were attracted to Bando because of the uniqueness of this Gurkha-based fighting style, which preceded other Southeast Asian arts in the U.S. by decades.4 Techniques of the Bando system contrasted sharply with those of the popular Japanese and Korean styles, which dominated the martial-arts scene. And, practitioners were impressed with the speed and efficiency of Gyi's techniques.
Throughout the Eastern Seaboard, Gyi entered his students into karate tournaments and forms competitions. These early students, clad in non-traditional black uniforms, dominated their matches and captured many titles. Shin kicks, leaping punches, and knee blocks were nearly unknown outside of Bando, and Gyi's early students applied these techniques effectively against other stylists. Word of the system's effectiveness spread throughout the martial-arts community, causing some otherwise successful practitioners to avoid tournaments where Bando students were entered. Lloyd Davis, Joe Manley, Bob Maxwell, Carl Beamon, Mfundishi Maasi, and Rusty Gage were respected names at karate tournaments, and they helped to foster Bando's growing reputation.
However, the tournament exploits of Maung Gyi himself were nothing short of mystical. He was known to "move like a cat," according to author and tai chi master Robert Smith.5 When performing, Gyi's side kicks were executed with such grace and precision that audiences frequently cheered and applauded. His long-staff techniques flowed with a speed that made the staff nearly imperceptible. That is, the staff seemed to disappear from Maung Gyi hands, only to reappear with devastating accuracy and power. While expressing the need for a good quality fighting staff, Gyi decried the strength of most commercial products and systematically demonstrated his point. One by one, he shattered a pile a commercially produced fighting staffs by striking them against a tree, using the same technique. His technique seemed effortless, yet the staffs splintered upon impact. Several Bando practitioners who witnessed the event described the performance as 'magical' and proclaimed Gyi's 'uncanny' martial-arts abilities.
. . . . . . the spirit of the 'wizard' had evolved through his skill and practice . . . . . .
Having mastered the Cobra Style, Maung Gyi was periodically invited to offer public demonstrations of the rarely-seen animal system. A primary offensive technique of this animal style is the 'cobra strike,' which simulates a cobra's venomous bite against its prey. To illustrate the effectiveness of this type of strike, Gyi has an assistant toss several inflated balloons into the air. In rapid succession, Gyi struck the free-falling balloons with a single cobra strike, causing them to burst. His hands moved with such speed that the actual strikes could not be seen. It gave the 'illusion' that the balloons were bursting on their own. Observers of the demonstration were mesmerized, almost incapable of processing what they were witnessing. Such demonstration fostered the mystique of Maung Gyi and his art of Bando-a mystique that continues to this day.
Garnering the attention and acknowledgment of other pioneers in the U.S., Gyi had become a leader and innovator in various areas of the martial arts. He was well respected by all the prominent masters who helped to shape martial-arts practices in America, including Ed Parker (kenpo), Mas Oyama (kyokushinkai), Harold Long (Isshin-ryu), Robert Tias (Shorin-ryi), Mas Oshima (Shotokan) and Jhoon Rhee (Taekwondo). These early accomplishments of Maung Gyi were a testament to his skill and intellect. He served as 'chief referee' for most major karate tournaments throughout the country, and chaired the Tournament Rules Committee for Black Belt Magazine, which established a point system for karate matches. Many of the early karate matches refereed by Gyi involved noted champions, including Mike Stone, Chuck Norris, Bill Wallace, Joe Lewis, and Tom LaPuppet.6
With over 90 Lethway and Tai-Boxing matches to his credit from the formative years in Burma, Maung Gyi introduced the sport of kickboxing to the U.S. He organized the first full-contact Bando Boxing match in Washington, D.C. during 1960, and formed the American Bando Association (ABA) to foster ancient Burmese fighting systems and to support military veterans.7 The innovations made by incorporating Western boxing methods into traditional martial arts were nothing short of 'mystical.' As an Olympic Silver Medalist in boxing, Maung Gyi was well aware of how Western boxing techniques could radically augment and improve Bando and other Asian fighting systems.
Gyi competed successfully in professional boxing matches in New York and New Jersey, periodically knocking out heavyweight opponents. What is most impressive about these matches is the weight differential. Maung Gyi weighed between 140 and 145 pounds at the time and only fought against light-heavyweight and heavyweight opponents.
. . . . . . well entrenched in the'wizard' realm, he would continue evolving . . . . . .
Gyi the 'Monk'
With a beautiful wife by his side, Maung Gyi sought new vistas in the college town of Athens, Ohio during the 1970s. This rustic setting offered many attractive features to the combat veteran who found himself drifting further away from the sorrow and pain of Burmese battlefields. Good schools and wholesome social options in Athens proved ideal for rearing his two children-Malinda and Serena. Both Maung Gyi and his wife, Patricia, found the intellectual environment of Ohio University suitable for professional growth and career development. After completing additional graduate training, Dr. Gyi joined the university faculty and distinguished himself as a psycholinguist in the School of Communications. Mrs. Gyi, too, completed graduate training at Ohio University and served as an administrator in the College of Medicine. Even the Gyi children found academic success in the quaint college town through advanced placement courses and attainment of an undergraduate degree.
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