Bando Connection with British

Conquered by the British

After repulsing forces from China, the Burmese then pressed West into India, seizing Assam. There, the Burmese encountered an immovable object directly astride their path of conquest: the British Empire. Three bloody Anglo-Burmese Wars resulted: 1824-26, 1852 and 1878. Losing these wars, Burma became a subjugated Asian Colony of Britain, annexed to India.

With this accomplished, the British set about ruthlessly suppressing indigenous Burmese combative systems, both empty-hand and weapon-oriented. This action was calculated to inhibit rebellion, but it also nearly destroyed the precious cultural artifact of indigenous and highly-developed Burmese combative systems. This process is not unlike the suppression of indigenous martial arts on Okinawa.

Burmese Martial Arts Go "Underground"

Prior to World War II, Burmese combative systems had been generally termed "Thaing," with at least nine major systems, each linked to the primary Burmese racial/ethnic groups: Burmese, Chin, Chinese, Indian, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Shan and Talaing, each with a different manifestation of the art. Nonetheless, these systems had been driven "underground" for nearly a century as World War II approached.

Only a select few were taught the arts in secret by the Masters, so the young could carry on the knowledge of the past. In the land where Bando Boxing had been the "Sport of Kings", it had now become a criminal act. Under Sections 109 and 110 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, imposed by the British, Burmese "Lethwei" boxers and Thaing/Bando practitioners were classed as "vagrants" and "habitual criminal offenders."

Rescued from Oblivion: The Military Athletic Club

As the clouds of what would become World War II hung over Asia, the British authorities in Burma permitted small scale martial arts training under government sponsorship and rigid controls (in order to prevent the spread of these disciplines into the populace as a whole). This was accomplished through the establishment, in 1933, of the famous "Military Athletic Club."

The Club was first formed by nine Gurkha officers (including Dr. Gyi's father, U Ba Than Gyi). These nine men were determined to restore full vigor to the ancient fighting arts of India, Tibet, Burma, and China. The group also was intent upon integrating some aspects of Japanese arts. As of 1966, information on the Founders of the Military Athletic Club was as follows (ages as of 1966):

Yogi Abehanada Indian, 76 years old, retired near Darjeeling, India

C. C. Chu Chinese, 80 years old, returned to mainland China

A. K. Khan Pakistani, 69 years old, retired in Karachi, East Pakistan

U Zaw Min Burmese, 70 years old, retired in Tongoo, Burma

G. Bahadur Gurkha, 79 years old, retired in Darjeeling, India

Saw Ba U Karen, 66 years old, retired in Insein, Burma

Dowa Naung Kachin, 71 years old, retired in Mogong, Burma

Boji Mein Sa Arakanese, 63 years old, retired in Rangoon, Burma

U Ba Than (Gyi) Burmese, 81 years old, retired in Twante, Burma

Guruji Gonju Bahadur was the first Chairman of the Club. Initially, beyond the Founders, there were some 90 members. In 1936, selected non-military men were allowed to participate due to their high level of martial / combative knowledge and skill. In 1939, total membership was increased to 300.

The training in the Military Athletic Club was extremely stark, rugged, brutal and realistic. From the perspective of today’s legal environment in the United States, such training is inconceivable. For example, it is reported that 15 members collapsed and died during a series of incredibly rigorous training drills. Some 33 members are said to have died of injuries during the group's annually staged private combat bouts.

Lord Mountbatten (then High Commissioner of His Majesty's Imperial and Colonial Forces in Asia) reportedly attended one of these tournaments in 1937. After viewing these life and death contests, he is said to have made his historic remark: "Beautifully brutal art . . . I'm happy they're on our side." General Orde Wingate is said to have called the members of this private military club "Bando Bastards."

* Dr. Gyi (USA Bando founder)
Source: American Bando Association
Kung Fu Fitness is a combination of different Kung Fu style and Bando Kick boxing (Lethwei).