BRUCE LEE - A CATALYST OF CHANGE
To better understand the roots of Wing Chun Do, we must look at Bruce Lee himself and his relationship to traditional Wing Chun. First of all let's cover when, how and why he broke from traditional training. It is questionable if Bruce Lee had any choice in his direction of training after arriving in America. Bruce made certain statements that suggested he would have pursued his classical training if there had been any Wing Chun masters to train with. One of his early frustrations in the USA was the lack of qualified Gung Fu Masters, in any system, to train under. He believed the answers to becoming the best fighter in the world were hidden in the traditional systems, and in particular Wing Chun. Also, there was the question of Bruce's knowledge in the art of Wing Chun in late 1959. Bruce stated he only trained in Wing Chun from age 15 until 18.
Although he trained more than the average Hong Kong student and was an above average student, it still suggests a limited knowledge of Wing Chun, since it took many years to be introduced to the old system. Bruce himself used to say that he was only a student and not an instructor. Bruce's amazing effect on his early students, who were mostly street fighters, was in a great degree because of the uniqueness of his fighting technique. Controlling the opponent's offensive/defensive ability by trapping and sticking to their arms was unheard of by either a professional or street fighter. Although his early students were very tough from a street fighting perspective, they were totally ineffective against Bruce's speed and trapping techniques. It is only when you study the basic principles of boxing, karate and most other fighting arts that you begin to see the flaws in their defensive techniques and how Wing Chun can take advantages of those weaknesses. However, after seeing many so-called Wing Chun masters, it can be said with confidence, that regardless of Bruce's limited Wing Chun background, he used it unlike anyone else. But now let's focus on Bruce's evolution after arriving in the USA. Bruce Lee wanted to become the best fighter in the world, not just good, but the best. His frustration in not having masters to train under was quickly replaced with the knowledge that he was going to have to become his own Master. He quickly surrounded himself with students who had extensive martial arts backgrounds or who were rough and tumble street fighters. He would analyze their every move, break down their techniques, find the flaws, and then reassemble them into more effective techniques for himself. His only focus was to make everything he trained in simple, efficient and practical. If any technique did not fit into these three rules, he rejected it. Once he began to see the effect of his creative abilities he came to realize that the answers to being the best were not hidden in any martial arts system, but were locked away in each individual. The key to finding this potential was to trust in yourself and not be swayed by the person, title, rank or length of history. "Empty your cup" became a reality for Bruce Lee, rather than just a profound statement. Bruce broke the traditional mold. It was alright to seek your own answers. It was alright to question the master. It was alright to cross-train in systems or create your own techniques. March to your own drummer, but always remember, be true to thyself. Do not be blinded by the ego and create for glory and gain.
For the sake of readers who are interested in the Wing Chun Do opinion of the four stages of Bruce Lee's evolution, each level will now be defined. 1. The Hong Kong Period. Bruce's basic foundation in Gung Fu. (Why "Gung Fu" instead of "Kung Fu", because that's the way Bruce spelled it!). Bruce trained in many styles, finally accepting Wing Chun as the best. 2. The early Seattle Period or Bruce's fighting period. Bruce had no awareness of who he was going to become. He was just a young kid with a dream to be the best. His pursuit of excellence as a fighter was fanatical. He trained with streetfighters hoping their input would challenge him to evolve his skills. Once he achieved the belief he was unbeatable, he set a new goal, to become the first Asian to achieve fame and fortune in Hollywood. In order to do that, he first had to escape from the restaurant where he lived and worked as a waiter and dishwasher. 3. The Jun Fan period. He was broke, he needed to earn money, so he decided to teach martial arts and charge a fee. (He never charged a fee in the early years). So he put together a style he called Jun Fan. (Jun Fan Lee was Bruce's given name). It was at this time that some of the early students began to question some of the techniques that Bruce decided to teach. They did not feel that the concepts were as practical as the early training. When Bruce was asked why he was changing what he was teaching, Bruce told DeMile, "Why should I teach someone to beat me?" For DeMile that was enough. Bruce would never again share his personal techniques. He would teach neat and interesting concepts, but he would leave out little gems that would always give him the advantage over any student. Fortunately for DeMile and a few others who knew of those little gems, the personal techniques of Bruce Lee will never be lost. 4. The Jeet Kune Do period. Often thought of as the Hollywood period. There are two elements to this level. First, Bruce was to collect, analyze and create a definitive martial arts system by studying all systems and accumulating vast sources of reference material so one day he could share the final results of his overview of the martial arts. This of course would take many years. Meanwhile, the movies. Bruce had been a child movie star and appeared in 17 films by the time he left Hong Kong at 18. He dreamed of becoming an American movie star. His whole focus on training shifted to doing things that were really designed for the movies. His more flourishing moves and kicks were for the screen rather than the street. As we know, he became a legend. After his tragic death, the family hired a writer, who was a non-martial artist, to go through Bruce's notes and create the book "Tao of Jeet Kune Do". This collection of Bruce's random thoughts and concepts borrowed from other martial artists, is the basis for the Tao of Jeet Kune Do. In Wing Chun Do's opinion, Jeet Kune Do does not really exist. If you talk to 10 different Jeet Kune Do practitioners you get 10 different versions. This difference is supposed to be explained by the philosophy that JKD is a style without a style. Do your own thing. That's great in religion, but if someone is going to kill you or your family, you should have something that is based on practicality rather than philosophy. The simple truth is that Bruce had a dream and when Bruce died, so did the dream. To add to the confusion was the fairy tale movie "Dragon", which was 99% incorrect. The only thing real was that he was married to Linda. What a waste of a great opportunity to let the world know what a truly unique and special person Bruce really was.
Quote from a Bruce Lee article published in Black Belt Magazine, September 1971. "Jeet Kune Do is merely a term, a label to be used as a boat to get one across, once across, it is to be discarded and not carried on one's back", (This article will be published on my website in the section on published articles of interest).
NOTE: There will be those who will be unhappy that it is suggested that Bruce's later teaching, Jun Fan and Jeet Kune Do were not Bruce's best. It has been the policy of Wing Chun Do and DeMile as the Chief Instructor to show anyone interested in the difference between Bruce's fighting period and his later teaching. Bruce's first student, Jesse Glover, is also always ready to show interested individuals the difference. Jesse was a close friend and one of Bruce's most aggressive students. It was in part Jesse's fighting skills that forced Bruce to evolve or get wiped out.