Return to Index  

PART 2 of 5: Last Interview of the late Dan Lee (1930-2015)

September 2 2016 at 10:38 AM
LJF  (Login LJF)

Response to Last Interview of the late Dan Lee (1930-2015)

Q9: When did you meet Bruce?
DL: In 1964, Ed Parker organized the Long Beach International Karate Tournament. I heard from Ed that he had invited a young but highly-skilled Chinese martial artist from Washington as the guest-of-honor. His name was Bruce Lee and he would be performing in the tournament. So, out of curiosity, I went there with some other Ed’s students to watch Bruce’s performance. We looked down from the upper floor in the hall and saw Bruce, in his cool black Kung Fu suit. He was explaining to the audience about Wing Chun and Gung Fu theories with full confidence. Upon his explanation, I only realized that there were scientific reasons behind these skills. Bruce also demonstrated Blind Chi Sau with his assistant, Taky Kimura. Bruce was exceptionally agile and I have never seen someone practice Blind Chi Sau before. It was truly amazing. A thought struck my mind at that moment, i.e. I hoped to learn from him. But Bruce was living in Seattle, Washington. It was impossible at that time for me to go there as my career and home was in LA. That time, the team leader in our Karate group was Danny Inosanto who had already learnt many kinds of martial arts but he too, was interested in Bruce’s skills.

In 1966, I heard there was a Chinese Tai Chi master who came from HK. His name was Tung Hu-Ling. Previously, my teacher, Chow in Shanghai had advised me to pick up Tai Chi when I grew older. I was already in my mid 30s then, so, I thought it’s time for me to start learning Tai Chi. Hence, I joined Sifu Tung’s Tai Chi demonstration event. When Sifu Tung asked, “Who can help me to translate?” I volunteered to help him. So, during the first day of his demonstration, I became his English translator. Sifu Tung liked me very much and I followed him to learn Tai Chi from that day onwards.

Actually, by that time, I’d already obtained my Karate Black Belt. In fact, Ed Parker had trained about 7-8 of them to become black belt Karatekas so that they could become his assistant coaches in the future. But I told him, “Ed, I’m Chinese, I want to learn some Chinese martial arts. I’d like to apply leave for half a year to learn Tai Chi Chuan.” Ed Parker was very disgruntled and said to me, “Alright, go ahead! See you half a year later!” After I picked up Tai Chi for 6 months, I became very fond in it. So, I phoned Ed and told him, “Ed, I want to carry on learning Tai Chi, so, I need to extend my leave a bit longer.” Ed Parker then became very angry and told me, “Ok then, I don’t want to see you anymore!” That’s why I stopped doing Karate and continued to learn the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan.

Q10: When did you learn JKD from Bruce Lee?
DL: In 1967, Danny Inosanto phoned me and said, “Dan, Bruce Lee will be coming to LA from Oakland and he would be opening a school here. Are you interested to join the school? I immediately replied, “Of course!” I didn’t know what were reported on the newspapers but when Bruce opened his school in LA on the first day, it was fully packed with crowd. Bruce said, “Gosh! Too many people, but since all are here, then, all are welcome to enroll.” I was one of the earliest to enroll into Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute. At that time, about 5 of us (all Karate Black Belt) left Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate School and crossed over to join Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute. There’s a photo of us taken with Bruce that was published in many magazines over the years. That was a shot to commemorate the day we joined Bruce Lee’s school. From then onwards, we had never resumed learning Kenpo Karate.

Q11: Jun Fan’s salute/ greeting stance is very similar to Kenpo Karate. Are they related in terms of origins?
DL: No, definitely not. They look alike but are not related to each other. Kenpo’s greeting stance includes slapping the knee caps with both hands, shaking legs and other movement etc. Bruce’s greeting movements were developed gradually as the school operated along the way. When class commences and after class ends, there’ll be JKD rites, ready commands follow by greeting stance.

Q12: Can you tell us about how the teaching was conducted in LA Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute? Were the students taught JKD directly or Jun Fan Kung Fu?
DL: In the beginning it wasn’t JKD, it was called Bruce Lee’s Martial Arts. I need to elaborate more about why I stopped learning Kenpo Karate. I actually found problems after learning Ed Parker’s skill. What we learnt in the practical applications and demonstrations were actually one strike after another, a sequence of strikes/ blocks. For instance, when the opponent hits you with a right punch, you have to block this way then that way... So, when all various strikes/ blocks are demonstrated, they indeed look really fanciful. Altogether, there are about 6-7 sets. However, the requirement is that the opponent shouldn’t move while you strike. In the end, when it come to real fighting, it didn’t work at all because the opponent would be moving all over the place and he’s a mobile not static target. This kind of Karate learning is actually a form of handicapped in actual combat.

When Bruce taught, he emphasized on 3 things. Firstly, fitness; secondly, practice and fine tune straight lead punch; thirdly, practical experience. Why? Later, I realized that in 1964, he had a fight with SF martial artist, Wong Jack Man. Not many people witnessed this fight. After the fight, Bruce self-reflected that though his fitness was ok but it still wasn’t good enough. Thus, he worked extremely hard on his physical fitness conditioning. Secondly, it’s a “MUST” to develop effective straight lead so that when the opponent run, you’d be able to catch up, stop and “hunt down” the target effectively. Bruce learnt this lesson because when he fought with Wong Jack Man, Wong turned and ran. Bruce chased him from behind and put forth effort to punch him but exerted himself. The punches landed on Wong’s back but didn’t cause much damage to him. Thus, it is a “MUST” to develop straight lead punch extensively in order to go for a kill; Thirdly, must possess practical experience in fighting otherwise it would be like swimming in dry pool. These were the reasons why Bruce enhanced his fitness, techniques and ways of imparting his skills later on.

We didn’t learn much Wing Chun stuff and not even Siu Nam Tau. However, practical Wing Chun center line, straight punch etc. are originated from Wing Chun. Also,our hand techniques are mainly Wing Chun terms such as Chung Chuie, Bong Sau, Chi Sau, Jik Tek, Juk Tek etc. The technical terms in JKD basically are Cantonese pronunciation. In the beginning, there were a lot of students. Bruce saw that and said fitness is number one. During the 2-3 hours of training, the first hour was spent on doing all sorts of physical conditioning exercises like rope-skipping, expanding exercise, leg stretching and kicking etc. After that, we began to practice the basic drills followed by sparring. 1-2 months later, some students were disappointed. They came here to learn Bruce’s skills but couldn’t understand why they kept doing these physical fitness exercises. Many students gave up and never returned after then. Bruce used this method to eliminate a group of students who had no perseverance in learning martial arts.

We had not even heard about Jun Fan Kung Fu back then. Only in 1967, when we were training in the school, we then heard the term, “Jeet Kune Do.” The name JKD is influenced by Western Fencing. In fencing, there is a term called “Stop-hit,” i.e. once intercepted, stab immediately. Bruce said, “When we throw a punch out, it must intercept the opponent’s punch and at the same time hit the opponent.” Also, right lead is placed at the front. Boxing is opposite, left lead is placed at the front instead. Thus, I was a bit unused to it in the beginning. Why this way? Bruce said, “The distance is closer to the opponent if the right hand is in front. Also, our right hand is more agile, so, it will be more advantageous to place it in front. Using right hand to train also feels better because right punch is more powerful than left punch. We followed Bruce’s instructions and trained diligently. It was very tough then. We even wore leather glove to train.

Q13: What is the general training procedure in Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute? What are its training requirements?
DL: Every lesson began with a 30-40 minutes physical warm-up session before we entered into actual training. When Bruce taught, he would sometimes interweave with theories on Chinese Yin-Yang, Taoism and philosophy etc. He liked to talk on these. Then, it’s practical experience. We followed his methods and trained accordingly.
In practical training, sometimes we would fight from one end of the wall to the other end. One guy would retreat while the other guy would chase from behind and then resumed his previous position. If the opponent escaped, one would gain experience as to whether there wasn’t any chase-hit skill, or training wasn’t enough, or the methods were incorrect. During training, everyone was required to fully concentrate as well as paid attention to the lectures because Sifu was very authoritative and particularly strict. After lesson, everyone could laugh and joke around. But during lessons, everyone must be serious. Once, we were training with full concentration. Suddenly, Sifu Bruce said, “Stop for a while!” But everyone didn’t hear him and continued training, “pop, pop, pop...” “Stop for a while~” Bruce repeated. Yet none heard it. The third time, Bruce shouted, “Stop!” Everyone jeered and only then we all heard Bruce’s shouting and finally paused our training. It showed how focus and serious we were. At that time, the demand for training was very stringent, the students must listened to Bruce’s teaching methods and commands.

Q14: During the practical lessons that time, besides 1 to 1, was there 1 to 2 or 1 against even more opponents?
DL: We all wore glove in 1 to 1 sparring. Of course there was 1 against 2 as well. At one point of time, we fully concentrated on practicing 1 to 2. The method was to pay attention to the footwork of the opponents. You shouldn’t stand at one side and fight against 2 guys. It must be like a dog’s fighting, i.e. bite 1 dog and then run away. When the rest of the dogs chase from behind, see which dog is the nearest, then, turn back and bite it. Thus, for 1 to 2, ought to maintain the agility of the footwork. Most of my memory was that everyone was sparring with the boxing gloves. After the sparring, we would summarize and from there keep on improving.

Q15: Were there many students in Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute? Generally, what time did the training take place?
DL: In the beginning, there were about 50-60 people. Later, many of them were being eliminated and eventually only 20-30 students remained. Generally, the training began in the afternoon at 2pm. The little glass door was painted in red with no name. Once the clock reached 2pm, the door would be closed. If you were late, you had to use special way to knock on the door and only then, the door would be opened for you. Generally, nobody from outside knew there were people doing martial arts training inside.

Q16: How did Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute enroll students and how were the tuition fees being charged and collected?
DL: For enrollment at that time, it was purely through words of mouth. Those who were interested in martial arts heard that Bruce wanted to teach martial arts in LA Chinese Community, they would pass the words around. News travelled very quickly. Many who heard the news came to register. I’ve forgotten about how the tuition fees were being charged and collected. It was Inosanto who collected the payment. He was liked a small team leader who was in-charged of the opening and closing of the school’s door, collecting the tuition fees etc. If Bruce was not able to make it for the lessons, he would write down his teaching plans on what stuff the students needed to train for that day. Inosanto would then follow Bruce’s instructions and led us to proceed with the training. Sometimes, if Inosanto was away from trips, then Bruce would get me to act as his representative.

Q17: Was the training conducted based on various levels’ requirements? Were there special tests for ranking and certification?
DL: There were no fixed methods. Every time Bruce came in, there would always be new training methods. He was constantly thinking and evolving. Hence, there was no clear ranking on the rate of student’s progress. In other words, there’s no specific ranking system. Bruce said ranking would affect our training mindset. However, for convenience sake, Bruce himself still designed and classified JKD into 8 ranks. He also awarded certificates to us. Moreover, there were no tests liked other schools. But he would observe, studied and verified to see what rank we have reached and then awarded the certificate. I did not participate in any test. I got a 3rd rank as verified and awarded by Bruce. Actually, our class was not fully aware of this ranking system. We wore the same T-shirt and there was no obvious difference or whatsoever.

Why? He said for instance, if people looked at the ranking sign on your T-shirt, they would immediately knew that you belonged to the intermediate level and thus, would be wary of you; or say, if you were in the advanced level, you might think too highly of yourself and then refused or dare not sparred with the elementary level. Therefore, there’s no clear ranking system or classification but in your mind, you knew very well who was stronger and who was weaker. When Bruce awarded me the membership certificate, only then I realized that I had become the number one permanent member and my serial number was 0101. I was surprised because I wasn’t the first to enroll into the school. Probably when Bruce was writing the certificate and serial number, he thought of me and thus, put me on the first page and thus, I became the first member of the school.

Q18: This may reflect your special relationship with Bruce?
DL: I do find that there was a special bond between Bruce and me. I was his first student who possessed a complex background, i.e. mainland China, Taiwan and the U.S. I’m bilingual in Mandarin and English and had martial arts experience in Karate, Judo and boxing etc. However, I did not mention to Bruce about the feats of my Boxing Champ as that was already a “past-tense” and there’s no need to bring it up again. Bruce might be thinking that Dan Lee’s martial art wasn’t too bad. Furthermore, he’s an electrical engineer and his spirit was commendable. He might have appreciated me in that way. Bruce spoke English and of course he was very fluent in his Cantonese. He was brought up in HK and wasn’t too good in his Mandarin. Sometimes, he would ask me how to say or pronounce certain words in Mandarin. Like Bruce, most of the overseas Chinese who grow up in the U.S. can speak English, maybe some Cantonese but not Mandarin. I feel proud when I knew I’m the one and only mainland Chinese who had an opportunity to learn martial arts from the legendary master.

Q19: Do you still keep the certificate that Bruce awarded you?
DL: I do. But I don’t really pay too much attention to it normally. It may be in my old album. I’ve no idea about its whereabouts for the time being and have to look for it before sharing it with you guys. I remembered besides the 3rd rank certificate, there’s also an enrollment certificate. That time, there was a system in the member’s certificate which consisted of 8 ranks. There’s a box in front of every rank. Bruce would put his signature and stamp-chop inside the box. But Kung Fu does not solely rely on certificate or whatsoever. After all, if you’ve the Kung Fu skill, you have it. If you don’t, it’s no use to even brag about it the whole day.

Q20: We do agree with your point of view. Only possess real Kung Fu then will make the certificate more meaningful. Your preservation of your certificate witnessed the JKD’s history and it can be considered a valuable historical relic. Don’t you think so?
DL: Talking about preservation and witnessing of history. I’ve some deep feelings and short stories to share. Back then, I was only conscientious in learning martial arts and never thought I have a chance to really take photos to preserve history. Coincidentally, at that time I bought a new Japanese brand camera and was so happy that I would put it in my car and carried it along whenever I went. One day, Bruce’s mother – Grace Lee, Linda, Brandon and Peter Lee visited our school and watched us trained. We paused our training and welcome them. Then, I said, “It’s a rare occasion, why not let us take a photo together?” Everyone agreed and then we took a shot. There was another time when the big Jabbar came, the one who played NBA. He was also Bruce’s student. I said, “Wow, he was as tall as a giant!” My camera was with me so it captured another precious moment of our group. However, when I look back now, it’s a shame that there’re only few photos of Bruce being taken together with his LA students.

Q21: So, those few valuable photos were taken by your camera?
DL: Yes, they were taken by my camera. After Bruce’s death, I was so sad. When Black Belt magazine intended to publish a commemorative article about Bruce, the editor looked for me and wanted these photos. I said, “OK, take the photo negatives and develop them.” But after they printed the article and photos, they didn’t return the negatives to me (Haha...). I think, these photos got a chance to be shown over the magazine have their meanings in history and there’s no need to say who took these photos but at least I have helped the JKD world to preserve a few meaningful historical moments.

Part 2: Photos of Dan Lee & others:

(Part 3 to be continued next week...)

 Respond to this message   

  • Straight lead for the runner - shaolinguy on Sep 2, 2016, 7:22 PM
  • Dan Lee - blackpanther on Sep 3, 2016, 3:10 AM
    Find more forums on Asian CelebritiesCreate your own forum at Network54
     Copyright © 1999-2017 Network54. All rights reserved.   Terms of Use   Privacy Statement