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Lunar New Year: Albuquerque’s version


Lunar New Year is a time of celebration throughout the world. Saturday, Feb. 10, the 50th annual Lunar New Year Celebration was held in Albuquerque’s International District at a martial arts school called the Chinese Culture Center.

Ray Tokuda is the leader – or Sifu – of the Chinese Culture Center or Lin’s Martial Arts Academy and directed this year’s exhibition, which was filled with a variety of traditional practices. 

Lunar New Year is a time of celebration and cleansing with the traditional practice of cleaning the home and ridding it of evil spirits with the help of traditional lion dancing, which is a key part of the yearly celebration.

The dance is performed with a large puppet controlled by two people who are responsible for protecting others from evil spirits. The students of the center engaged in the tradition by performing a rendition, according to instructor and event narrator, Bill Doleman. 

Lions are not the only animals responsible for giving good fortune. This year, it is accompanied by the dragon – a large puppet that measures over 100 feet long and is operated by 10, Tokuda and Doleman said.

In the Chinese calendar, 2024 is the year of the Wood Dragon – the third of 12 animal signs that each represent different aspects of life. 

The Dragon is the sign of the Emperor within the Chinese astrological table. People who are born under the Year of the Dragon, which occurs every twelve years, are characterized by strong wills and self-determination, Doleman said. 

Tokuda is a Dragon himself, and discussed the ancient history that he is able to share with people and partake in.

“Getting the chance to learn ancient forms, techniques and knowledge that (do) not have a written form is something that is palpable. You can feel the history, and it’s such a gift,” Tokuda said

Forms are the core of any Chinese Culture Center performance,  Tokuda said. They display a vast array of weapons, including swords, sabers and staffs, alongside the self-defense styles the space teaches. Kung Fu primarily focuses on teaching self-defense, whereas other martial arts such as karate teach how to fight.

Kung Fu is the main martial art that is practiced in the space. The words can be translated into “hard work,” which the students embody through the exhibition, Tokuda said. The Lunar New Year performance takes months of planning. The performers pulled through, despite the snow from the city’s first winter storm of the season. 

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Members performed their various exhibitions – sets of movements that enact fighting styles – for over two hours. While the students performed their forms, others played traditional Taiko drums while dancers from the Albuquerque Chinese Folk Dance Ensemble performed.

Cynthia Lin, the founder’s wife, has attended and supported every Lunar New Year performance since the space's opening. 

Every year, Lin ends the show with a tradition her late husband held: lighting an 80-foot string of firecrackers. The sound is meant to scare away evil spirits before the beginning of the Lunar New Year. 

“I feel really grateful that even after 50 years, the school is still here and still putting on the show. It’s always been hard. Even when (the school’s founder) was around, he would push the students to do even better, but without him it’s even harder,” Lin said. 

BillyJack Davidson is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at or on Twitter @BillyJackDL

BillyJack Davidson

BillyJack Davidson is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached on Twitter @BillyJackDL 

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