Native American kung fu master with Taiwan ties passes away

Native American kung fu master with ties to Taiwan passed away on March 17

 Sifu Steven Baugh. (Photo from the Lohan School of Shaolin)

Sifu Steven Baugh. (Photo from the Lohan School of Shaolin)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- A Native American kung fu master, who was a greatly beloved spiritual leader in the Las Vegas community and had ties to Taiwan, passed away at the age of 65 on Sunday (March 17).

Born on Dec. 14, 1953 in Los Angeles, California, Sifu Steven Baugh was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia at the age of 12, and was not expected by doctors to survive beyond the age of 16. Fortunately, his grandfather took him to see a Chinese doctor, who was also a highly accomplished kung fu master from Guangdong, China named Ark Yuey Wong.

Wong's prescription of herbal medicine, chi kung exercises, and kung fu training greatly strengthened Baugh and alleviated his condition for much of the rest of his life.

Baugh (left, front row) with kung fu classmates in 1970s. (Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

As a youth having both Cheyenne Native American and indigenous Mexican Tarascan heritage on the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles in the 1960s, Baugh found himself in many street fights involving rival gangs. Baugh soon found his newly aquired kung fu skills had practical use.

In addition to training with Wong, Baugh soon immersed himself in a number of kung fu schools manned by famous Taiwanese, Chinese-American, and Chinese masters, the latter of whom fled oppression in Communist China. Along the way, he trained in many styles of kung fu, such as Shaolin, Praying Mantis, and Choy Li Fut with such famous masters as Dr. Kam Yuen, Sifu Ken Hui, and Sifu Eugene Lau.

He also began training in the internal martial arts with a famous Taiwanese teacher named Master Hsu Hong Chi for several years in Xingyi. Hsu was a disciple of the famous Taiwanese internal martial artist Hung I-Hsiang, who was chronicled in books by the martial arts writer Robert Smith.

Baugh (second from right, third row). (Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

Baugh trained in Yang style Tai chi with Master Marshall Ho and Chen style Tai Chi with Sifu Steven Tang.

Baugh also began training in the esoteric teachings of Taoism from Master Share K. Lew, a Taoist priest from the Golden Dragon Temple in southern China. In addition, Baugh gained much assistance in understanding Taoism and the applications of both internal and external martial arts from Professor Carl Totton.

Baugh performing praying mantis in the 1970s. (Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

During the late 1960s and early 70s, especially as Bruce Lee began to rise in fame, the kung fu kwoons Baugh trained in soon saw stars such as David Carridine and members of the Jackson 5 join in the training. Baugh's teachers, such as Kam Yuen were involved in the production of the TV series "Kung Fu" during this period.

During the late 1970s and 80s, Baugh continued to pursue his passion for kung fu, winning many awards in tournaments in both fighting and forms.

Baugh as a monk. (Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

After settling down and raising two children, Baugh sought more meaning in life. He eventually chose to live an ascetic life by becoming a monk at the Hsu Yun (Empty Cloud) Buddhist monastery in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he followed the teachings of Abbot Jy Din Shakya.

At Hsu Yun, Baugh was ordained by Jy Din Shakya in the Chan (Zen) school of Buddhism. In later years, he also studied under Master Yu in the Hanmi School of Buddhism, in which he learned the esoteric teachings of Vajrayana.

Baugh (second from left, front row) with students in 1990s. (Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

Although he was originally content to live the life of a monk, he later had a vision that called him to open a kung fu school with his son Raul, and his partner and Tai Chi master, Billie Ann Sabala. The school actually started in his garage which became the training grounds for future famous martial artists such as former UFC fighter Roy Nelson.

In 1994, the school, which was still in its nascent stages, was named the Lohan School of Shaolin. The word "Lohan" (羅漢, enlightened being), was chosen to honor the original followers of Gautama Buddha who, despite coming from diverse backgrounds, had attained the four stages of enlightenment.

In 1995, with investment capital from Taiwan, three Taiwanese businessmen opened the first Chinatown in Las Vegas. Baugh and his students soon started making themselves a fixture in the growing Chinese community, practicing on the Chinatown Plaza rooftop and inside its mall, until eventually settling on its current location in a 4,000 square foot facility on 3850 Schiff Drive.

Baugh giving demo in early 2000s. (Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

As Chinatown and Las Vegas continued to grow, so did the Lohan School, which now has over 300 students. His students have gone on to be very successful in tournaments and many have become accomplished teachers themselves.

In addition to his martial arts journey, Baugh continued his spiritual path by opening a temple inside the school to offer free Buddhist teachings. He also regularly provided spiritual comfort to hospice patients in the Las Vegas community.

Traditional lion and dragon dancing were also a forte of Baugh's and his troupe of lions and dragons soon became ubiquitous across Chinatown and the city's top casinos. His lion dancers were even featured in the 2001 Jacky Chan film "Rush Hour II."

Baugh wielding Guandao. (Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

The Lohan School was given a special award for being the most outstanding school at the KSTAR 2006 audition to find the next kung fu action star.

Over the next decade, Baugh and the school continued to expand their involvement in the Las Vegas community, always stealing the show wherever their group appeared.

In 2017, Baugh joined his Taiwanese disciple Kenny Wang (王舜忠) in touring Taiwan for the first time. When asked by the author about his impression of Taiwan, he said, "I feel that Taiwan will experience a great awakening."

Baugh (left) with Wang (right) in Hualien County, Taiwan. (Photo from Wang's Facebook page)

On Feb. 20 of this year, Baugh received a state proclamation for the contributions to Lunar New Year development for the city of Las Vegas. Baugh continued to lead his traveling troupe across Las Vegas until the weekend of his sudden death from a heart condition on March 17.

His loss was a shock to both the martial arts world and the Las Vegas community. Since his untimely passing, there has been an outpouring of grief from the many people whose lives he touched and made for the better.

On Friday (March 22), a Dharma rite for the deceased will be held at the Lohan Temple. On Saturday (March 23), a service will be held for Baugh at 7 p.m. in the Palm Eastern Mortuary at 7600 S Eastern Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89123

Baugh in the Lohan Temple.
(Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

Baugh striking fierce pose. (Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

Baugh with lion heads. (Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

(Lohan School of Shaolin photo)

Tribute to Baugh created after his passing:

Baugh describing how kung fu helped him ameliorate the symptoms of sickle cell anemia:

Baugh performing Chen Style Tai Chi in Las Vegas Chinatown:

Traditional funeral lion dance ceremony performed in Baugh's honor: