When Washington's Jow Ga Kung Fu team filed into the Kuo Tai Sports Stadium in Taiwan, they drew some curious stares.
In the arena where masters of the oriental art of kung fu from 30 nations -- including the best from Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong -- gathered to compete, the District's all-black team looked slightly out of place. One of the Jow Ga team members, to the undoubted amazement of the audience, wore his hair in cornrows.
But when the final blows had landed and the last kick had been fired, the Washington team emerged victorious: first place in martial arts and high honors in the kung fu fighting category.
The highest accolade, however, came from a Chinese spectator with tears in his eyes who approached the team.
"He said it brought tears to his eyes to see us perform because we had the real Chinese kung fu rhythm," said Eugene Mackie. "He had learned kung fu as a youth growing up in China, and our style came closest to the way he had learned it."
The Washington kung fu delegation, headed by expert Dean Chin, included Paul Adkins, the team fighting coach, Deric Mimms, the demonstration coach, Robert Wood, Kevin Palmer, Reginald Moten, Craig Lee, Frank Alexandria, Terhan Brighthaupt and Mackie.
The nine students from the Jow Ga Kung Fu school at 740 6th St. NW spent 10 days in Taiwan and received red-carpet treatment during their stay.
They toured the city and were honored at a reception given by the minister of foreign affairs and the mayor of Taipei.
"People were so friendly it was amazing," said Mimms. "Anytime we had a problem, someone was willing to help. If we got lost, people went out of their way to guide us. I think we in America have a lot to learn about hospitality."
With the aid of the Jow Ga school secretary, Christopher Nieh, who was born in Taiwan, the team members were able to function even though they did not speak Chinese.
"It was real hard to understand the language and people were always staring at us, acting like they never saw blacks before," Mackie recalled. "At first we were feeling bad about it, but as we came to understand the situation and the people, we began to relax. They are extremely friendly."
Once the games began, the Jow Ga members began to realize how fierce the competition was. Some of the members said they did not really expect to win, but when they thought about the $20,000 their relatives and Chinatown merchants had raised to fly them to Taiwan, they decided to try harder.
Some of the rules of the game required that the Jow Ga team members alter their technique. "We didn't have but two days to practice the new techniques," Mackie said, "but we worked hard."
The Jow Ga team had won several local competitions prior to being selected to participate in the international competition. The team emerged as the best among about 30 schools in the Washington area.
The Jow Ga school was the first kung fu studio in Washington, founded shortly after Bruce Lee made his television debut as Kato, the loyal sidekick of the Green Hornet.
The school, which teaches a kung fu system based on complex footwork and strong hands, currently has about 80 students. For $25 a course, a student learns a series of Oriental dance routines, how to speak simple Cantonese sentences and how to meditate, as part of the preparation for the martial art.
"We are just glad we got the opportunity to make a such a fantastic trip," Mackie said. "It is really a credit to the people who supported us financially and emotionally -- the merchants and our families and friends.
"They were the driving force for us to do our best, and a lot of them endured a heavy financial burden just to get us there."
Nowadays when the team practices, it is with a touch more confidence that comes from being a winner. "Our method is tried and true," said Mimms. "We're going to stick with it and make it better."
He says their eyes are now set on Honolulu, where next year's international kung fu competition will take place.