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Bruce Lee’s Relationships With Early 70’s HK Chinese Martial Arts Community

August 15 2016 at 8:44 AM
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The following is an article pertaining to the cause of the hostile relationship between Bruce and the early 70s HK Martial Arts Community. Sources include interviews with Steve Lee Kar-Ting, Tony To Wai-Tung, Ng See Yuen, Wan Kam Leung and articles of various HK publications such as 70s HK BL Chinese magazines – Chivalrous Word (Nov issue, 1971) - “Lau Tat-Chuen & Chan Sing-Bill Challenged Bruce To Fight,” (Aug issue, 1972) “Renowned Boxer & Superstar Gung Sau, BL won by one strike,” Contemporary Martial Arts Circles (Dec issue 1972),“HK Martial Arts Community Highly Criticized BL’s Absence From Ip Man’s Funeral,” 70s HK newspapers – Commercial Press (6th Jul 1973) –“Heated Argument between Lo Wei & BL Almost Turned Into A Bloody Tragedy…,” Fai Po (10th Jul 1973) “We despise arrogant and disdain heroism!” Ming Po (25th Jul 1973) -“BL Accused by the HK Martial Arts Community…,” and BL book (1998) - “From Limited to Limitless – The Ways of BL” by Paul Li” – “Whipping The Corpse.”

Photos of 70s news on Bruce’s & HK MA Community:

From honeymoon phase to weather storm
Early 1970 till mid 1971 was the honeymoon phase of Bruce’s relationship with the HK Martial Arts Community. HK and its Chinese Martial Arts Community felt honor for Bruce’s overseas achievement, such as opening kwoons in the foreign land, starring in The Green Hornet series, teaching Kung Fu to Hollywood top stars and defeating foreign martial artists etc. When Bruce returned to HK in the early 1970, he was invited to perform his Kung Fu on TV. During the 2 weeks stay in HK, he had several Yam Cha and Gung Sau sessions with many HK respected Sifus of various schools such as Ip Man (Wing Chun), Siu Hon-San (Lo Han), Shih Kien (Jing Mo), Kwan Tak-Hing (Dragon Form); Chan Tat-Fu (Choy Li Fut), Au Wing-Nien (White Crane), Lau Kar-Leung (Hung Gar), Tang Sang (HK Chinese Martial Arts Association Chairman) etc.

However, after the brief honeymoon period was over, the weather storm followed. It all started when Bruce flew to HK to pursue his movie career in late 1971. His severe criticism on Chinese Kung Fu publicly offended the HK Chinese Martial Arts Community. Many Kung Fu “Dai Lou” (Big brothers) were stunned by his straight forward and unfavorable comments. They thought he was trying to put Kung Fu down so as to prove his JKD’s superiority. Some unnamed Sifus mocked at Bruce because he self-claimed to be the Kung Fu successor in the U.S. yet he did not even bother to comply with the traditional Chinese Martial Arts customs such as paying visit (“Bai Ma Tau”) to the local Kung Fu “Dai Lou.” This showed how ignorant and arrogant he was. The HK Chinese Martial Arts Community began to bear grudges and animosity towards Bruce.

Although the above unfavorable remarks made by the HK Chinese Martial Arts Community looked mean at first glance but upon careful analysis, they were actually no nonsense. Not only those people who were criticized by Bruce had bias against him but those outside the Martial Arts Community also felt likewise. The only difference was the outsiders were less objective than the insiders. In fact, neither did Bruce intentionally belittled the HK Martial Arts Community nor wanted to make enemies within the Community. The reason was simple: In the first place, HK Chinese Martial Arts Community had not offended Bruce. Hence, it was illogical for Bruce to have a hostile attitude towards them.

Bruce’s original concerns & undiplomatic acts
Bruce once told a friend that he was concerned about some HK Sifus who only taught fanciful yet impractical stuff to their disciples. They were all irrelevant stuff on real fighting. Bruce felt that he had the responsibility to advise these students to give up learning these phonies and instead, urged them to learn the most practical and advanced martial arts - that of course would be his painstaking creation - JKD. This was Bruce’s original intention. However, due to his undiplomatic ways in dealing things and miscommunication, he was completely misunderstood unexpectedly. His frankness in fact, gave a big blow to the HK Martial Arts Community. The people in the community were infuriated by his frank comments and began to complain about his “rude behavior and arrogant attitude.”

Open challenge from the HK Chinese Martial Arts Community
Consequently, Bruce who had just returned to HK for just several months received an open challenge. In November 1971, The 4 times HK boxing champion who was also a Cha Kuen and Mongolian Wrestling expert, the 27 years old Lau Tat-Chuen, claimed he represented the HK martial arts community and issued an open challenge to Bruce (In fact, there was another challenger, Chan Sing-Bill who was a 59 year old Sifu but was not as prominent as Lau). The news was all over the papers and magazines for a period of time. Bruce ignored the challenge as he told the press that he had already “attained the supreme level that he would not easily fight with anyone,” i.e. “The art of fighting without fighting.” Actually, Bruce was confident of his JKD and was not afraid to fight anyone. His only concern was that he did not want people with bad intentions to make use of him and gain fame. Bruce thought whether the challenger won or lost the fight, he would still acquire fame naturally because of his challenge with the No.1 HK superstar cum JKD founder. The challenger definitely would stand nothing to lose but Bruce, on the contrary, would open the door for more challengers to enter if he would to accept the first challenge. There was a popular saying in HK back then, “How could Bruce, an international well-known martial artist compete with a boxer from a small island? It was just like a college professor in Chemistry competing with a high school student in a Chemistry contest.”

Nevertheless, some people later argued that although Bruce claimed that he would not accept fight with anyone but during the shooting of FOF and ETD, he had sparred with few average skilled extras. They said that if this was not considered fighting, then, what was it? Bruce continued to do things in his own ways and continued promoting his JKD without caring about the feelings of other martial arts practitioners. The HK martial arts community thought Bruce was too outrageous and too disrespectful. Then, they brought up the old news: “Bruce Lee refused to accept the challenge with the infamous HK boxing champion, Lau Tat-Chuen, yet he fought against those lousy small fries in the martial arts community. How would he explain to support his earlier claim of not accepting challenges due to his supreme level attainment?” Of course, the press would not let the matter rest. They kept adding fuel to the already worsened issue. A year after that matter, there was an on-going rumor that “Bruce dared not accept the challenge of Lau Tat-Chuen!”

Challengers seek fame from challenging Bruce
Of course, there were many challenges against Bruce. But this one was the most significant one. After this challenge’s incident, Lau did not persist to challenge Bruce. No matter what, he had already won Bruce in the public’s opinions: i.e. “Lau was someone Bruce was afraid of” (Similar to some Bruce’s challengers in the U.S.). Until his death, Bruce did not get rid of the challengers’ harassments. They increasingly became brazened and made use of Lau’s challenge incident to agitate Bruce. Some would condemn his JKD while others would even go as far as inviting Bruce to fight at some pre-arranged avenues. Their challenges usually would not get any repercussions, yet they achieved another of their goals successfully, i.e. those challengers were hailed as heroes and Bruce, a coward because he was intimidated by them. Linda once desperately recalled the situation: "Bruce always tried to rebuff all challenges, but the press would always boo at him. One thing is for sure, most of the challengers are trying to get free publicity."

Bruce was in fact, under huge pressure from the public opinion. His silence was no longer seen as an act of scorn towards challengers but rather as a timid behavior. He was unable to justify his earlier claim of “not fighting with anyone easily.” People even suspected that his feats as an invincible martial artist in the United States were just a myth of Hollywood, and they were merely made up records. Bruce was forced by the public opinion to have slightest room for maneuver. As a matter of fact, the press felt that the most direct and sensible way was actually for Bruce to defend himself by accepting the challenge from any highly-skilled HK martial arts master. In this way, he could use his fist to prove himself and therefore stop what he is about to lose. However, to their disappointment, Bruce did not act according to their expectation.

The frustrations Bruce faced
Based on the study and analysis done by HK BL historian Paul Li/Lee, Bruce’s attitude towards the challengers in the beginning was showing contempt but at the end he became worried of losing everything. That year, Bruce underwent a lot of frustrations and suffered a series of setbacks, in which some were quite fatal (loss of his Sifu Ip Man and good friend James Lee, deteriorating relationship with the HK press and HK Martial Arts Community, fainted suddenly which struck his health alarm etc). Bruce was driven nuts and almost towards the edge of collapsing. He seemed to hear Grim Reaper knocking on his door and no longer had the courage to move forward directly as before. His reputation and popularity were expanding like the balloon. He tried to maintain all his hard earned fame and fortune and was afraid of losing them all. What would happen if he would take the risk of accepting the fight and lose it? This probably might be a difficult question which until his death, Bruce was still pondering about.

Martial Arts Gathering @ TVB
Due to the popularity of Bruce's movies in HK, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, his Kung Fu started to gain more and more attention from the overseas Martial Arts Communities. The feedback on the world’s Kung Fu craze as a result of Bruce had forced the biased HK Chinese Martial Arts Community to paid attention to Bruce's JKD and re-examine its superiority.

The above consequences eventually led TVB to invite Bruce and the HK Sifus of different schools to sit down together and “gung sau” (talking hand) in a talk-show program. Naturally, the purpose was to promote individual martial arts skill and engage in “gung sau” sessions. Bruce accepted the invitation so did the Sifus. Originally, these Sifus did not want to sit next to Bruce because of his conceited and boorish behavior. However, the plan of gathering the HK Martial Arts Community and Bruce by TVB could be seen as an official acknowledgement and acceptance of JKD as a new school in HK. In addition, it would also resolve the tension and animosity between the two parties. Nevertheless, Bruce’s actions later reversed the development unexpectedly.

The offensive act on TV
As it was a gathering of the martial artists, Linda reminded Bruce to be humble and exercised more tolerance. Bruce agreed and warned himself not to be impetuous as before. During the recording of the show, Sifus of various schools started to introduce themselves, their skills and their schools. Bruce remained cool and most of the Sifus spoke with reservation too. Though some of the Sifus’ remarks were purely against Bruce, yet the atmosphere seemed quite harmonious.

Then, accident occurred. It started off with this middle-age proclaimed Sifu who was around 50 years old. He boasted that no one could move him because of his incredible Chi Kung (Chi Power). In order to prove how strong he was, he stood firmly in his Chinese iron pile stance and invited every Sifu to come forward and push him. Actually, it was not a big deal. What he did was to light up the dull atmosphere and he had no ill-intention of causing any troubles. The Sifu's iron pile stance was indeed amazing as he was proficient in this specialty. The rest of the Sifus who were no ordinary martial artists tried their best to push him one after another but none succeeded. The Chi Kung Sifu just stood there liked a stationary iron pile that was firmly affixed to the ground. Onlookers could not help but applauded and this made the Sifu bigheaded.

Bruce’s strike broke the relationship with the HK Chinese Martial Arts Community
Unlike the Sifus, Bruce Lee did not step forward. He just sat there motionlessly and calmly watching the “pushing show.” The Sifu finally invited Bruce to come forward and push him. Still, Bruce sat there calmly. The Sifu was a bit frustrated and said to Bruce, “So, you are afraid that you can’t move me and you’d lose face? Haha…” Bruce eventually stood up without a word. Then, he walked slowly towards the Sifu. His face was expressionless. Everyone was watching anxiously to see whether Bruce could push the Sifu over. Suddenly, Bruce raised his hand and in a nick of time, struck his lightning fast punch in Sifu’s face. Immediately, the Sifu’s waddled, fell to the floor and lied there unconsciously.

Everyone was shocked. Several other Sifus reproached Bruce: "What the hell is happening? How did you break his stance?" Bruce sneered and said: "I don’t push, I punch!" Bruce then told the audience in the studio that these were only "Kung Fu gimmicks" that have nothing to do with real fighting. In the eyes of others, Bruce’s act was undoubtedly a rogue’s behavior. Every industry and schools have their own rules. The rules of Martial Arts World stated: “Fighting with hands, then no legs; fighting with knife, then no gun; fighting openly, then no dirty tricks; fighting with bare-hands, then no weapons.” This unconscious Sifu already stated beforehand to push him, how could Bruce took advantage of Sifu who was unprepared and punched him? This kind of un-gentleman’s behavior was disdained and detested by the Sifus.

Explanation in vain
As a matter of fact, Bruce had no ill-intention or trying to be a rascal. His intention was: if you tried to prove your pile stance, I’d had to prove my punching. In actual combat, there is no fixed form of fighting. Bruce hated those “phonies,” and this Sifu was actually displaying his skill that was not realistic in fighting. Bruce thought if you stood still and waited for people to push you, then you were undoubtedly asking for trouble. Hence, Bruce gave a heavy punch while he was off guard to actually wake him up. Some people from the HK Chinese Martial Arts Community were able to comprehend his intention and purpose but they will never speak up for Bruce. Linda had tried to explain Bruce’s behavior to the people concerned. However, the special identity of Mrs. Lee determined her explanation was not convincing and hard to believe. Linda's voice was soon drowned in the sea of angry condemnation.

The biggest flaw in the history of the relationship between Bruce and HK Martial Arts Community might be this ugly scene that occurred in the TV studio. Due to his ‘offensive act,’ Bruce’s Takenori plummeted to the bottom. According to an assistant of Robert Chua and another TVB producer, Gilbert Wang, fortunately, this “martial arts masters’ gathering” was part of the EYT program and was pre-recorded earlier. After discussion, the TVB producer and director, decided to delete the scene which Bruce punched and K.O. the Sifu due to the “violent act” that might arouse discomfort among the audience. Several days later, it was shown on TV without the deleted scene. This was probably why TV viewers were not able to recall seeing this deleted scene except for those who were present in the scene. As to the whereabouts of this deleted scene footage, no one has any clue on this.

Then, another explosive incident rocked HK just days before Bruce’s passing. That was the last appearance of Bruce in TVB’s EYT show on 5th July 1973. In that EYT show, Bruce knocked down host Ivan Ho and got a bad name for his “violent act.” The cause of this act was due to an earlier incident that took place earlier on the same day.

Lo Wei’s incident “re-enacted” on TV
On the afternoon of 5th July 1973, Bruce had a dispute with Lo Wei at GH’s screening room and he used knife to threaten Lo Wei. Lo reported to the police. Bruce was forced to sign a document to assure that he would not harass Lo again. On the same night, Bruce appeared on EYT show as pre-scheduled earlier. During the interview by Ivan Ho, Bruce did not mention about Lo’s name and vent his frustration and resentment against Lo by blaming him for causing the whole incident. The TV viewers were inexplicably puzzled of whom he was referring to except those who were present at the scene knew exactly what really had happened.

Bruce actually meant he was magnanimous for if he used a little more force, the old man would be crushed. To prove what he said, he used Ivan Ho as the dummy and tested his skills. So, a scene appeared on the TV screen: Bruce pointed his finger at the audience and started leaping. Suddenly, he shoved his shoulder and the great force pushed Ivan Ho backward. Ivan Ho seemed so vulnerable that he fell and rolled over the sofa. (Note: 30 years later, Ivan Ho clarified in an interview that this was prearranged beforehand and he was not hurt by Bruce. This implied the producer had known this “small demo” was part of the program and agreed to release the scene to the TV viewers but never to expect it received great negative response after the show.)

Bruce’s act not only was seen as a “serious offence” by the press but it was a grave provocation to the "anti-violence campaign” which was going on at the time in HK. Fans and The HK Chinese Martial Arts Community were deeply disappointed and dissatisfied with Bruce’s offensive act. The public unanimously pointed the finger at Bruce. Hong Kong "Fai Po” (“Express Paper”) carried the title: "We despise arrogant and disdain heroism!" “Since you disrespect me, I’ll do the same to you!” -- That was the attitude of the HK press towards Bruce. In fact, Bruce had no intention of offending the media or to have the idea of promoting violence. He also had no intention to use force on anyone even against his enemy Lo Wei. Nevertheless, Bruce was not able to control himself and committed such a "folly." 

Crying over the spilled milk
Bruce was remorseful over what he had done frequently. According to Bruce’s butler Wu Ngan, who had followed Bruce for 20 years, claimed not long before Bruce’s passing, Bruce buttressed a stack of HK newspapers and magazines back home angrily. He flipped through all these materials and the more he read the more furious he became. Then, Wu Ngan saw him knocking his head with both his fists. Wu Ngan went over to console him and asked what happened. Only then, he realized that Lo Wei reported to the police and on the same night Bruce went on TVB’s EYT show. He demonstrated his force by knocking Ivan Ho over with his shoulder. The press grabbed this opportunity and made use of the HK government’s “Anti-Violence Campaign” to make a fuss out of it. He felt he was terribly misunderstood and wrongly accused of. Wu Ngan said Bruce was so regretted that he crumbled the newspaper and whispered to himself, “I shouldn’t be made use of by these people….”

JKD – An evil art?
All the while, HK Chinese Martial Arts Community did not take Bruce’s JKD as a kind of good martial arts but rather as a form of evil one. Bruce believed that as long as you could overcome your enemy, you could do anything by fair means or foul. For instance, in the movie (FOF), there was a scene where he bit the opponent’s leg to defuse the arm lock. When he preached his martial arts, he also advocated the weak ones and women to kick and grab the enemy's scrotum - This is a man's weakest point. In fact, jabbing eyes, chopping throat, kicking groin were seen as vicious skills by the Chinese Martial Arts Community. But they were considered effective JKD techniques to bring the opponent down. Bruce’s theory was regarded as outrageous and against the right practices of many martial arts practitioners. To Bruce, the reason is simple: When your life is in danger at that moment, you’d no time to care about good way or bad way! Ultimately, efficiency matters!

Violation of the dead taboo & Traitor of the Chinese Martial Arts
Bruce’s “offensive act” on TV violated the taboo of the HK Martial Arts Community and it caused outrage among the martial arts practitioners. They believed not only Bruce's budo did not belong to the good stream of martial arts, his Takenori was corrupted and he was the traitor of Chinese martial arts. Bruce in fact, was planning to leave HK as he began to lose faith towards HK. However, he had to finish his G.O.D. first. While waiting for the public release of ETD, he was revising and writing his G.O.D. script. Unfortunately, on 20th July 1973, Bruce suddenly died. The fall of a superstar shook HK and the misfortunate incident turned out to be the real G.O.D.!

Blast of the dragon until his final resting in Seattle
At the time of his death, almost the entire HK Chinese Martial Arts Community members “boycotted” Bruce and didn’t turn up for his HK funeral at Kowloon. This showed how much grudges and hatred they bore against Bruce. Many early 70s HK newspaper carried reports on this subject. Just days after Bruce’s passing, the Chinese Martial Arts Community (including some people from Wing Chun Clan) and the press attacked Bruce brutally on the papers. They blasted him for tarnishing the hero image by involving in the scandal with a porn star and died on her bed. It was totally unacceptable and disgraceful. Also, they slammed him for using unorthodox methods in his trainings, disregarding the Chinese martial arts traditions, disrespectful to his Kung Fu brothers and worse of all, for being ungrateful to his own master as he failed to attend his Sifu Ip Man’s funeral etc. All the unpleasant pasts were dug out and being used to attack the dead Kung Fu hero. The schools involved in criticizing Bruce include Wing Chun, Practical Tai Chi Sect, White Crane Sect, Dragon Form Sect, Tai Seng Pek Kwar Sect, Lok Chi-Fu Fitness Center, Natural Sect, Sang Tsin Kyun Sect, HK Chinese Martial Arts Association etc.

Due to Bruce’s “dishonorable” passing, the Chinese Martial Arts Community attempted to draw a clear line between them and Bruce. Finally, some righteous people in HK who detested this kind of public bully’s behavior stood out and retaliated. They sarcastically condemned these people for attacking the dead as it was just like “whipping the naked corpse of Bruce,” and the dead of course would not be able to defend and speak up for himself. Their coward acts actually were a disgrace to HK and the Chinese Martial Arts community for they showed ingratitude to Bruce who had brought honor to HK while he was alive. Indeed, Bruce was a popular Chinese hero liked by the common people but not the Chinese Martial Arts Community and the Press media in HK. There was so much unfavorable criticism on Bruce even after his death. It was no wonder Linda was so determined to bring Bruce’s body back to Seattle for burial and let it be his final resting place. HK indeed brought success to Bruce but also unhappiness along as well. Maybe, Seattle was the only place Bruce could find his inner peace and harmony.

Photos of 70s news on Bruce’s & HK MA Community:

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  • Re: Bruce Lee’s Relationships With Early 70’s HK Chinese Martial Arts Community - Fred on Aug 15, 2016, 11:23 AM
  • Re:Bruce Lee’s Relationships With Early 70’s HK Chinese Martial Arts Community - rockfish on Aug 15, 2016, 6:00 PM
  • Great article - eric derek on Aug 15, 2016, 10:04 PM
  • Re: Bruce Lee’s Relationships With Early 70’s HK Chinese Martial Arts Community - Anonymous on Aug 16, 2016, 7:00 AM
  • The Tournament (1974) Angela Mao - jkdragon on Aug 17, 2016, 10:49 AM
  • Speculation! - Doug on Aug 18, 2016, 11:22 AM
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  • Re: Speculations - jkdragon on Aug 18, 2016, 12:52 PM
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