By Brian Chapman
Sifu George Giatrakis, instructor for the self defense class at Brookhaven College and White Lions of Shaolin martial arts school, calmly described a gut-wrenching moment at the age of 23 that led him to being the martial arts instructor he is today.
“I was coming out of my third-story apartment and saw some guy beating up his girlfriend on the other side of the fence,” Giatrakis said. “The guy notices me staring over there and his girlfriend runs off. The guy yells ‘Hey punk,’ and comes running over and grabs me by the shirt. Shortly after, his friend comes running to break things up, and we parted ways.” Giatrakis said he signed up for a martial arts class the very next day. “I said to myself, ‘No one is ever going to grab me like that again,’” he said.
Giatrakis originally started studying martial arts at the age of 11. After a couple of years, he decided to quit to devote his time to other sports. After witnessing the domestic dispute when he was 23, he returned to the study of martial arts.
Giatrakis began to study and practice tae kwon do under the teachings of Master Chang Pyo. This training lasted several years before he began to look for other challenges. He was striving for something new that presented more techniques with one’s hands. This brought him to the art of kung fu.
In 1990, Giatrakis began practicing Shaolin kung fu at the Chinese Martial Arts Institute in Dallas, and two years later, he received his black belt. Giatrakis later took over the school in 1994.
Over the next 13 years, Giatrakis ripened his many techniques in the art of kung fu and handed down his teachings to many students who were involved with the Taipei Chinese Kung Fu Association.
Giatrakis began to study t’ai chi ch’uan and Choy Li Fut under the acclaimed Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong. In early November 2007, Giatrakis started his own school, called White Lions of Shaolin, becoming the first school in Texas recognized by the branch Plum Blossom International Federation. (The Plum Blossom International Federation was founded by Grandmaster Doc-Fai Wong in 1986.) Today, it consists of more than 300 schools with around 50,000 students nationwide and 680,000 students worldwide across six continents.
Giatrakis teaches three styles of kung fu at his school: Choy Li Fut, wing chun and yang style t’ai chi ch’uan. In his class at Brookhaven, he teaches Choy Li Fut.
Choy Li Fut is a mixture of multiple forms of combinations of both footwork and hand skills. It derives from both Northern and Southern Chinese kung fu systems. According to Giatrakis’ website: “Our style emphasizes relaxed circular movements rather than stiff muscular force. This is not only more effective, giving the smaller person an advantage, but is also better for the practitioner’s health. This style of kung fu consists of nearly 200 forms with 52 different weapons.”
Former student Jubenal Aguilar took Giatrakis’ self defense class in fall of 2011 and has chosen to continue his training at his school, White Lions of Shaolin. Aguilar said: “The biggest reason students join this class is to learn martial arts or for self defense. However, there is a lot more to kung fu techniques than meets the eye.”
“Giatrakis always says that a complete kung fu system consists of four aspects: health, self defense, art form, and philosophy … Giatrakis is an expert of Shaolin kung fu and he is very passionate about both practicing and teaching it to his students,” Aguilar said.
Giatrakis teaches morality with his lessons. He believes that self-discipline is the first thing someone gets from his class. Giatrakis said: “Students come to my class to learn and deal with the human nature side. To learn about why they are angry. Martial arts is more than just punching and kicking, it’s mental.”