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Larry Lee Gam-Kwan: Sparring With Bruce Lee

August 11 2015 at 3:45 AM
LJF  (Login LJF)

Response to Re: Re: Larry Lee Gam-Kwan & Bruce Lee 8mm film

The following article is the foreword written by Master Larry Lee Gam-Kwan for a new book titled, “Bruce Lee Notable Quotations,” published in HK on 1st Jun 2015. The author for the book is HK BL Researcher & Expert, Prof. Roger Lo.


Larry Lee Gam-Kwan: Sparring With Bruce Lee
Foreword by Master Larry Lee Gam-Kwan (Karate Ninth Degree Black Belt, Curator of HK & Okinawa Goiuryu Karatedo Kugekai (OGKK; Karate school)

Bruce & Larry Lee Photos:

“If you’re able to endure the pains that others couldn’t endure, you’ll definitely achieve the results that others couldn’t achieve.” - Bruce Lee.

These were the golden words Bruce told me during his guidance on my kicking techniques at OGKK. They have indeed, inspired my life. The motto of OGKK is “Attaining The Martial Skills Through Hard Training; Seeking The Martial Arts Through Total Dedication.” This is actually originated from Bruce too.

Time really flies. In a nick of time, few decades have passed. Remember in 1970, with the recommendation from Cheng Kwun-Min (OGKK’s Chairman; Cantonese comedian actor and friend of Bruce), I got to know Bruce at Yu Ming’s (Cantonese actor and husband of Bruce’s cousin) house. Later, Bruce accepted the invitations to perform JKD demos in TVB and RTV, thus, he borrowed OKGKK HQ for his pre-demo practices and rehearsals.

As both of us were young martial artists then, we saw each other like long-time friends. We got along very well and engaged in a congenial conversation. There’s an old Chinese saying, “Scholars dare not admit he’s number one; Martial arts practitioners would not admit he’s number two.” In that sense, we, two hot-blooded martial arts practitioners – One is JKD Master and the other one, i.e. me, a New “Si Hing” (older brother) who just got promoted to Karate 3rd degree black belt, of course, need to compete with each other to see who was the best.

Initially, it was a mutual punching of boxing targets to test each other’s power. But this would not prove who was more outstanding in terms of martial arts skills. Ultimately, we agreed to proceed to the balcony for further verification, i.e. sparring. As the balcony was both shallow and narrow, we acknowledged the rule of using the hands to spar only and there should be no striking to the head. When everything was ready, the entire room became completely silent. Uncle Min and Bruce’s buddy, Unicorn Chan each stood at one end of the balcony to protect us from tripping over the balcony bars.

It had been 45 years since then but the sparring still left a deep impression in my memory. Every punch of Bruce still came into view. Before the spar, I was full of confidence. This was because in 1968, I started a school in Tsuen Wan (Ho Pui Street), opposite August Moon Theatre, a place filled with street gangsters, triad societies members, law-breakers etc. Often, I was faced with uninvited guests who came to my school and challenged me - all kinds of strange, special and unexpected challenges. When I learnt martial arts in Japan, kata practice and unarmed combat were daily compulsory routines, thus, I learnt to feel at ease and having no fear in the face of challenges. However, I found most of the challengers usually were middle-aged men. As the saying goes, “Fear The Fist of The Young,” so, they should be afraid of my young fist instead.

That day, standing before me, was Bruce Lee who was then anonymous in HK. Therefore, I failed to recognize he was the real deal. We showed our politeness first before engaging in the ferocious battle. Karate usually starts with half forward leaning stance with both hands protecting the body. Bruce stood at an incline stance and clenching his fist but he looked entirely calm and at ease. After moving around for a while, I saw an opportunity and immediately threw out a fore-fist (seiken), followed by an inverse blow, coordinated with progressive chain attacks. Bruce did not counter-attack. Instead he dodged and protected the center parts of his body. He retreated and left my attacks in vein. I tried to calm down my nerves and changed my tactics, using feinting as an attack first and thrust forward with a straight punch (But Bruce seemed to see through my strategy).

He did not block, instead, he attacked to neutralise my attack at a full speed. He then fired continuous blows with his left and right hook punches at me. Just in the split of seconds, I could sense his heavy and speedy punches (accomplished at one stroke or move) landing on me. The joints on my left and right shoulders were hit continuously (I faintly heard Uncle Min shouted “stop” but was ignored). After calming down and hanging on to the fight, I felt my arm joints were aching and limping though my determination was still very strong and I was attempting to fight to the end.

I tried to attack again but this time round, my speed had decreased tremendously. Everything I tried proved futile. Bruce was still in his best composure. He carefully and steadily dodged and dispelled my attacks. Moreover, he did not counter-attack, thus, gave me a bit of time to catch my breath. After regaining my composure, Bruce started to attack at great speed, then, stopped instantly. I believed he had broken my defense through straight punch followed by hook punch……from the moment of apperception till response, I was unable to dispel his attacks through blockings. It was too late as I noticed his powerful punches had penetrated through my blocks and hit my left and right shoulder joints again. This time, my upper limbs seemed liked “totally dismantled,” I was unable to continue fighting anymore, so, I raised my hand to pause the fight. It seemed like a lengthy 2 minutes, 3 rounds sparring. Bruce was the final winner whose skills were far superior than mine. I was proud for my courage and determination. Although being defeated, I was completely convinced and had a heartfelt admiration towards Bruce. We shook hands and talked delightfully to each other. The tension dissolved. Everyone present felt relief then.

Just before Bruce went to the TV stations, he once again demonstrated his kicking prowess at OGKK. I was able to see and appreciate the supreme level of the Master’s kicks at such a close distance. It was really amazing because his incomparable kicking was as flexible and agile as his punching.

Subsequently, Bruce invited me for lunch several times at Panda Hotel located at Nathan Road, Kowloon. Unicorn Chan was also present every time we were having lunch. Our conversations with Bruce were always surrounding the topics of martial arts and philosophy. I would not missed the opportunity of getting valuable advices from the Master who was next to me. Listening to the words of the Master was really useful to my whole life and they in fact, became my motivations in writings all of my four books later on.

Unicorn Chan accompanied Bruce for his practices every time. Usually, Bruce would get Unicorn and me to hold the shield. As we already have many experiences in such attempts before, hence, we knew how to coordinate in that demo. Bruce’s kicking application was very diversified. He liked to use a combination of various kicking techniques and his speed was extremely fast, and his strength was totally focused. I only heard an earsplitting explosion. Many a time, Unicorn would be thrown several feet away by the powerful kicking force. Bruce’s kicking prowess could be described as such: “Silent like water” (before striking), “Fast like wind” (striking in process), “Powerful like arrow” (kick, thrust), “Soft like whip” (back and sweep).

During our discussion, Bruce said the footsteps of ballet are extremely flexible, its center of gravity and aesthetic feeling meet the standard, thus, we could borrow it for kicking’s training. The essential points in kicking skills training are the center of gravity (i.e. upper and lower parts of the body should be balanced and well-coordinated), standard kicking, regardless of twisting the body, front kick, side-kick, rear kick, inverse sweep, jumping, the skills must all be elegant, natural, flexible, stable and with power. When Bruce guided me to perform rear kick, he said continuous application of the upper, middle and lower parts of the body are required; motion has to be slow and pausing for 3 seconds at every point of hitting; raise legs and upon side kicked with “foot knife” also required to pause for 3 seconds before retreating (“knife-foot” – a term used in Karate for side kick with edge of the foot, is Bruce’s favorite kicking; strike forcefully with a kick at the hitting point and paused for a while before retreating instantly, it seemed sound like the flying arrows could be heard vividly).

Two weeks passed by very fast. Bruce was busy with his TV demo schedule. He brought several coaches (note: one of them was Siu Wing who performed with Bruce) and me from OGKK together with his 5 years old son, Brandon Lee, to appear and perform JKD in 2 HK TV stations. The demos in the shows were indeed very impressive and successful. It really gained the support and popularity of the HK audience.

Bruce was a benevolent person and a loyal friend with integrity. He was well wielded “with the pen and the gun”, a man of both literary and in martial arts capacity. I really admire him for being well-learnt, knowledgeable with superb martial arts prowess and philosophy. In addition, he was amiable and hospitable; always do things direct and with high expectations.

Before retuning to the U.S., Bruce presented a reel of 8mm footage as a gift to me. It contains all his complete appearances and performances in the 2 HK TV stations (Note: different from the HKTVB station original footage and the 5 min B & W unclear footage surfaced in the market, owner of that footage was HK businessman, Samuel Cheng). This footage became my best teaching material in OGKK. It is also the only available Bruce’s personal JKD TV demos. After returning to U.S., I received 2 letters from Bruce. He sent me regards and appreciations for my kind assistance. Indeed, he was really a man with love and righteousness.

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  • Love reading the articles - Suresh on Aug 11, 2015, 10:04 AM
  • Re;Larry Lee Gam-Kwan: Sparring With Bruce Lee - rockfish on Aug 11, 2015, 8:31 PM
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