Fitness Friday

Meet the Chef Who Says Kung Fu Saved His Life

Pokeology owner Jason Liao on the life skills martial arts gave him and how novices can get started.

By Beth Levine March 17, 2017

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Jason Liao as a youth in Houston.

As a kid, I used to watch kung fu movies with my grandfather—you know, before Kill Bill brilliantly revived the genre. I remember thinking, wow—they move with such precision, such grace and they totally kick ass. So when I talked to the guys at Pokeology and found out owner and pokéologist Jason Liao is deeply versed in martial arts, I had to know more. He graciously agreed to sit down with me for some insight into his background to share advice for novices interested in learning about this time-honored craft.

Liao's interest in martial arts started early, at the age of 9. His family tree had a lot of practitioners and he always felt a desire to learn how to fight. From the ages of 9 through 14, Jason started learning the particularly esteemed Shaolin kung fu, which traces its origins to the Shaolin monastery over 1,500 years ago.

Flash forward to college, and Liao was studying Chinese wrestling and training in North Carolina with the special forces at Fort Bragg. After some time spent in the restaurant scene here in Houston, Jason returned to studying under his original teacher, George Ling Hu. He calls Ling his sifu, a term of great respect used to describe one's teacher as both a master of the art form and a father figure. When Liao isn't cooking, he's working on his craft—he focuses on bajiquan, a form of martial arts known for its emphasis on short, powerful strikes—at a nameless, nondescript studio in Bellaire. 

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George Ling Hu, Liao's sifu in the Chinese martial art of bajiquan.

Image: Jason Liao

I asked Liao how much he trains, and his answer was simple: "Always." His advice for newbies focused on four main points for those interested in martial arts to focus on.

  1. Make sure you are getting into martial arts with right mindset. You are learning a combat skill, so be respectful of that.
  2. The most challenging aspect for new students is the mind/body connection. It's about the cause and effect between what is going on mentally and the physical rigors of practice.
  3. Try to find the right instructor—he emphasizes this strongly. The community can be a little insular, so don't be afraid to ask around, use word of mouth and be discerning. 
  4. Understand your purpose. As Liao says, "You are going to get out of your practice, what you put into it. So know what you want to put into it." Done right, martial arts practice is a lifestyle, not just a way to learn how to fight.

Liao says martial arts has provided him with an inner moral compass and a pathway to navigate life. I asked him what advice he would give that 14-year-old boy who wanted to fight. "Life comes full circle, so teenage Jason was necessary for current Jason," he said. "Always persevere." 

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