by Lamar M. Davis II
Bruce Lee developed a fascination for fighting at a very young age. It is a well known fact that wing chun gung fu was the art that Bruce Lee studied in Hong Kong from age thirteen to age eighteen. Some of his training was with grandmaster Ip Man, but the person primarily responsible for teaching him was the late Wong Shun Leung. It has also been said that Cheung Chuk Hing (William Cheung) also worked with him quite a bit. Bruce Lee liked wing chun because it was such a direct and effective fighting system, and it was the greatest fighters from the wing chun clan that inspired him the most. It was said that he often engaged in the famous “roof top fights” of the time period. He loved fighting, and spent most of his spare time training to be a better fighter. The rest of his spare time was spent dancing, as he had a fascination for the cha cha, and won the Hong Kong Cha Cha Championship in 1958.
His parents continuously worried about his education, due to the fact that all he wanted to do was train in wing chun and dance, so they decided it would be best to send him to the United States to continue his education. Since he was born in San Francisco, California, he actually had dual citizenship. They made arrangements with Ruby Chow, an old friend of the family, for her to allow Bruce to work at her restaurant in Seattle, Washington. Bruce Left for the United States in April of 1959, at the age of eighteen.
Upon his arrival in Seattle, Bruce Lee enrolled in Edison Technical Institute to continue his education. While attending school, he worked at the restaurant and actually lived in a room above the place. As soon as people started finding out that he was a martial artist, they began seeking him out for possible instruction. Some of
his first students during this time were Jesse Glover, Ed Hart, Skip Ellsworth and James DeMile.
Since he had not learned the complete wing chun system, he decided to call what he was teaching Jun Fan gung fu, due to his Chinese name being Lee Jun Fan. So, essentially, by calling it Jun Fan gung fu, he was pretty much calling it Bruce Lee’s gung fu. Jun Fan gung fu consisted primarily of wing chun gung fu, but also contained a few elements of other martial arts that Bruce had explored at the time. Many still refer to Jun Fan gung fu as modified wing chun, as the bulk of the curriculum came directly from wing chun.
Bruce Lee’s reputation as a fighter spread rapidly through the martial arts community in Seattle. He was giving a gung fu demonstration one day and a Japanese karateka that was in the audience began speaking badly of Bruce, who was highly irritated by his comments. Word was going around that the Japanese fighter wanted to challenge Bruce Lee to a fight.
On November 1, 1960, Bruce Lee decided that he had put up with the talk long enough, and the two departed to a nearby handball court. Jesse Glover had a stop watch, and was designated as the referee for the fight. When Jesse said go, Bruce and the Japanese fighter began to size each other up. Bruce attacked with a rapid series of centerline straight punches, catching the karateka full in the face with the punches. He then followed up with a hard straight kick to the face that nearly turned him a full back flip! The fight was over. From the time Jesse Glover had punched the stopwatch to the time the karateka hit the court, only eleven seconds had passed!
Due to encouragement from others Bruce Lee decided to open an actual kwoon in Seattle. He acquired quite a few students, and after a very short time had to move to a larger location. Taky Kimura became his assistant instructor for the Seattle kwoon, which was called the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute. The curriculum there was predominantly wing chun gung fu, including the sil lim tao form, centerline rotation striking, chi sao, reference point trapping hands and mook jong training.
It was obvious to everyone that Bruce Lee appreciated the practicality of the wing chun system. Even though he did add a few things from other martial arts,
wing chun gung fu and it’s core principles remained the nucleus of his system. To Bruce Lee it was all about self defense, and the directness of wing chun made self defense much more practical.
During Bruce Lee’s time in Seattle, a young woman by the name of Linda Emery started attending his gung fu classes. The two fell in love, and were married. Shortly after, they moved to Oakland, California, where Bruce had been corresponding with a well known martial artist named James Yimm Lee. Taky Kimura became the instructor of the Seattle Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Bruce’s absence, and Bruce and James opened a school together in Oakland.
Before leaving Seattle, Bruce had traveled to Oakland on several occasions to meet and get to know James Lee, and the two became fast friends. They had already planned to open a school, and James was accepting students in preparation. Bruce and Linda lived with James during their stay in Oakland, so Bruce and James had daily opportunities to train together, and work on furthering the Jun Fan gung fu curriculum.
Through his close friendship with James Lee, Bruce Lee met the late, great Edmund Parker, master of kenpo karate. Ed was fascinated by Bruce Lee and the skill level he displayed in the art of gung fu. He was so impressed that he invited Bruce to participate in his 1964 Long Beach Internationals, a world renowned martial arts event. Daniel Inosanto, a very prominent student of Ed Parker and highly skilled martial artist, was assigned the duties of taking Bruce Lee around during his visit to Long Beach. The two formed a fast friendship, which lasted for the rest of Bruce Lee’s life.
The Long Beach Internationals was Bruce Lee’s debut to the martial arts world, and his awesome demonstration at this event captured the attention of many prominent martial arts personalities, as well as some prominent people in the television and motion picture industry. Although the art demonstrated was considered Jun Fan gung fu, the wing chun influence was there for all to see! Still not fully content with what he had, yet inspired by the response to his demonstration, Bruce continued to develop his martial arts ideas and abilities.
Bruce Lee’s brother, Peter, had been a fencing champion in Hong Kong. Bruce had always liked the fencer’s ability to quickly close the gap on the opponent using very direct, economical and explosive footwork. He also noticed some similarities to wing chun gung fu. Wing chun has the four corners. Fencing has what they refer to as the four quadrants. These principles are very similar in both idea and definition. Bruce’s interest in fencing caused him to start experimenting with combining his wing chun hand tools with the fencing footwork. It was also at this time that he realized the importance of placing the power side forward, making your strongest hand closer to the opponent. This greatly increased his non-telegraphic striking capabilities.
Combining the directness of the wing chun punch or finger jab with the power side forward and the fencing lunge made it almost impossible to stop his entry. He worked on this until he had perfected the movement, with the emphasis on intercepting the opponent’s initial movement, or even their initial intention to strike.
Another striking art that Bruce Lee took an interest in was boxing. He liked the quickness of the boxer, as well as the evasive movements, light, quick footwork and the applications of angular power punching. He liked the way that the boxer applied their whole body in the mechanics of their punches, using the legs, waist and hips, thus giving the punches amazing power. The thing that he didn’t like was the fact that boxing was a sport, and therefore prohibited the use of other striking tools as well as foul tactics. The common practice was to put the power hand to the rear. Bruce Lee used to watch old boxing films through a mirror to see what the techniques would look like if applied with the power side forward.
From boxing, Bruce Lee took the hook, the uppercut, the shovel hook and the overhand hook. This gave him more versatility in his hand striking tools. He also liked boxing evasive tactics such as the slip, the duck, the snapback and the bob and weave. Some of the footwork from boxing could also be applied in certain situations.
During this time, Bruce Lee composed a letter saying that he was creating a new martial art, composed primarily of techniques from wing chun gung fu, boxing and fencing. He stated in the letter that this art was going to be IT, meaning the
ultimate art. He would name this art Jeet Kune Do, the way of the intercepting fist. This was around late 1965.
Due to the start of his acting career and increasing television appearances, Bruce Lee decided it would be best for him to move to Los Angeles, so that he could be closer to the studios. He had maintained contact with Daniel Inosanto, and Inosanto had become his student, even though he was still teaching kenpo for Ed Parker.
Together with Dan Inosanto, in 1967 Bruce Lee opened the Los Angeles branch of the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute. Dan Inosanto was considered Bruce Lee’s assistant instructor at this location, and taught all of the classes in Bruce’s absence. The school was located at 628 College Street in Los Angeles’ Chinatown district. This was the location of the last Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, and probably the most famous of Bruce Lee’s schools. It was this school where Bruce Lee taught such well know Jeet Kune Do practitioners as Bob Bremer, the late Jerry Poteet, Steve Golden, Daniel Lee, the late Herb Jackson and the late Ted Wong.
By this time, Bruce Lee’s art had fully made the transition to Jeet Kune Do, but wing chun gung fu still remained the nucleus of the system. As a very well educated and longtime instructor of Jeet Kune Do, it is my opinion that Jeet Kune Do is composed of 50-60% wing chun, 15-20% boxing, 15-20% fencing, and 5-10% taken from other disciplines. Of course, the most important part of the equation is the brilliant mind of Bruce Lee!
There are those who still try to discredit the wing chun, even going so far as to say that there is no wing chun, or very little wing chun left in Jeet Kune Do. On the contrary, nothing could be further from the truth! Wing Chun gung fu is, and will always remain, the very foundation of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. Those who say different are very misinformed. Those who leave out the wing chun are definitely missing the most important part of the equation, and the primary element that makes jeet kune do the direct, effective and devastating martial art that it is. Without wing chun gung fu, Jeet Kune Do would have never existed! That, my friends, is the bottom line!