Bruce Lee, a new Door to Open
Edison Technical school was for adults who had not finished high school and needed make-up grades to go on to the University. Bruce had been expelled from a Catholic high school in Hong Kong that was taught by Christian brothers. Bruce and I had four things in common. We were both born in San Francisco, mixed racially,taught by Christian brothers, were expelled before finishing high school and had a lot of street fights.. A personal demonstration by Bruce taught me instant humility and shifted my attempts at being tough, to developing a more creative and realistic way to look at life. It was because of this period in my life that I was able to formulate the steps to bringing the mind/body and spirit into balance by writing my book, Tao of Wing Chun Do.
I had an opportunity to spend a lot of one on one with Bruce Lee. This was because I only lived two blocks from the school, and Bruce would go to my apartment to make phone calls to his folks in Hong Kong or his brother in San Francisco. While waiting for calls or after making them, we would talk about different aspects of training. It is from this, as well as my training with the group, that I developed my interpretations, which I present here. I underline that the basic concepts Bruce developed were only a nucleus of thought. Years later, I took these inspired ideas and took them to the next level by giving them form so they could be taught to those interested. This is why each of us from Bruce’s early teaching were so different. We each saw Bruce differently and relative to our needs and purpose for training. My primary interest was conceptual rather than fighting.
My recent brush with almost going to prison taught me that fighting and being tough was not on my list of future goals. My main question and motivation for training was: How could this kid embarrass me so easily, without even working up a sweat. I needed to find out. It was my introduction to the “Art” of fighting, rather than the Neanderthal methods I used.
My martial arts mentor, Bruce Lee, radically changed my thinking about myself and how I approached life. Even though his teaching was mostly physical, his approach to uncovering new ideas, modifying old concepts and depending on science to validate his discoveries was the basis for how I developed my overall programs. Up until I met Bruce, I had an inflated ego and perceived myself as being respected because I was rough and tough and fiercely independent. My orphanage days had given me a narrow and limited perception of the real world and of myself. It never occurred to me that the respect I got was based on fear.
My first encounter with Bruce was my introduction to humility. I was going to Edison Technical school, in Seattle, which was a school for adults who needed to make up credits to go on to college. I was in between classes and was passing the auditorium and noticed a sign saying “Asian day studies”, which was talks about the different Asian cultures. Curious, I went in and sat far back from the stage. A young oriental guy was leaping around the stage making odd sounds. He would jump high into the air, spin around, make flashing actions with his arms and land in some pose that looked like a Preying Mantis about to attack a bug. This went on for a few minutes with him flying around the stage like a drunk butterfly. Finally, he finished bouncing around and went up to the microphone. He went on to explain what he had just demonstrated was a fighting style called Gung Fu and was practiced throughout China and Hong Kong as a deadly form of self defense. This statement amused me. So when his talk was finished I wandered up to the front by the stage where he was talking to a small group. The group was about 50/50 male/female. I smiled to myself as he was talking in a very animated way about Gung Fu. How, for hundreds of years the peasants had used it to fight the bandits who roamed the countryside attacking villages. They were not allowed weapons so had devised Gung Fu as a way for close quarter combat. At some point he noticed me with what must have been a stupid grin on my face. He smiled slightly and asked if I had any questions. I knew this was a moment to look good in front of an audience so I said in a sarcastic way, “ Kid, we don’t fight like bugs over here. Fighting isn’t a dance, it’s serious and someone is going to be hurt”. His smile got a little broader and he said,”No kidding”. He moved towards me and stopped about an arm’s length away. Now picture this. I was about 5ft 10’’ and 220 pounds. Bruce was about 5’ft 7’’ and roughly 135. I was 21 and he 18. Continuing to smile he said, take a punch at me. Now, I had been an undefeated heavyweight boxer in the Air Force and had very quick hands and decided to teach him a lesson, since he was stupid enough to keep his arms down by his side. I thought I would just flick his forehead with a fast jab. I moved into a loose stance and fired a left jab. Bruce’s movements were a blur as my jab was caught up in a cyclone of action. I felt myself being jolted as he flicked my jab aside, caught my other arm, and in a flowing motion planted both arms crossed on my chest like I was dead. In an act of panic I tried to leap back and away from him. He was like a bad smell, I could not get away. No matter how I moved, backwards or side to side, he stayed with me while maintaining pressure on my locked arms. I finally stopped when I hit the edge of the stage. Before he released me he tapped on my forehead and asked, “Is anyone home”. Wow, talk about learning humility the hard way. All I could hear, other than my own heartbeat, was the chuckling from the group. Embarrassment is an understatement. I did not know whether to run to the toilet and flush myself down or try to hit him again. Seeing his smiling face, relaxed and ready for anything, I opted for the toilet. Better yet, I became one of his first students in America.
Bruce, without knowing it, was a scientist. His way of looking at the martial arts was quite different than any other practitioner. He wanted to be the best martial artist there ever was. He was not interested in how old something was or how many trophys an instructor had, he was only concerned about what would work for him. In order to accomplish this he challenged everything he saw with questions. What was the purpose of the technique? Was it simple, could he do it without a warm-up? Was it efficient, or does it have unnecessary moves. Lastly, would it work for him. These were his initial thoughts. Then he would analyze the technique to see if he could improve on it. However, his main contribution to modern martial arts was his insight on the different elements of a technique. A technique was a number of physical moves designed to accomplish a specific result. In a technique you had the physical act as well as the elements of speed and power. This is where Bruce leaped light years ahead of his peers. He felt just training harder to be faster or stronger was not the answer. He thought this way because if a 200 pound student and a 140 student both trained equally hard, the larger student would always have the advantage. Since Bruce was small framed, this was an important point since he wanted to be able to beat anyone regardless of size. So he looked for the weaknesses in current training and what advantages did a small person have over a big person. Speed and mobility was the clear difference. But, if a small person trained as hard as he did, doing the same thing, then they would be equal. So he had to make changes, create new concepts. His first change was to take what he considered the best techniques and concepts, refine them and modify them to fit him. His next important change was to separate speed and power into separate arts, from technique. He felt that the elements of speed and power needed to be explored alone, since most sports and martial artists just trained harder to be faster or pumped iron to build up more muscle to be stronger. Bruce felt something was missing. His initial research only talked about speed or power in a general way. There wasn’t any information regarding what speed was for different applications. The only repetitious thoughts were about the short muscle twitch. In watching different sports Bruce realized that speed was different for each sport. There was no common denominator that brought them together. The same for power, it stayed general rather than specific. So what was the answer.
Science was the answer. Talking about electro-chemical reactions and actions, the bio-mechanics of motions and the gamma level response of the brain to threat was the path to new concepts and training. We developed nine sources of speed and 10 sources of power. We found that for every strong line of energy flow there were five weak ones. Instead of using strength against your opponent you blended energy with his and actually could control his movement. We established that, once you developed maximum natural speed or power as an art, you could maintain it without further training. With these unique concepts, Bruce feared no man. Another critical point Bruce emphasized was that the saying “jack of all trades and master of none” is very valid. His logic told him that he could never master all his techniques, but that it was OK since the overall training was great for his personal physical evolution. Bruce believed a fight should not last over two seconds. The question is: how much can you do in two seconds? Very little. And that was the key to Bruce’s question of how much to train. Bruce felt that if he laid out all the possible scenarios for a fight and analyzed the fewest possible techniques needed to win all the encounters, then he could focus on those techniques and become a master of them. Bruce knew many styles and was fairly good at them, but he was a master of no more than twelve techniques. Yet, they were designed for any conflict. This concept of selected training is known as the “tool pouch” concept. I trained both physically and mentally, focusing on developing my personal tool pouch. Finally, in reflection, I think one of his finest perceptions, and one of the simplest, was his recognizing that over time, if he did not keep up his training, his skills would diminish and he could be beaten. To solve this dilemma he used the principles behind biking and swimming. Once you learned them, you never forgot them. This was because of nero-imprinting when you use natural movement. Once learned, always remembered. So, Bruce only focused (for his tool pouch skills), on techniques that were based on natural movement or response. And it worked. I still prove this concept in demonstrations and I am over 81 years old.