PART 3 of 5: Last Interview of the late Dan Lee (1930-2015)

September 9 2016 at 8:28 AM
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Response to Last Interview of the late Dan Lee (1930-2015)


Q22: In the photo shoot session for 1967 Black Belt magazine, we saw you wearing full set of protective gear and demonstrated JKD with Bruce. Were those protective gears being used in your daily training in Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute?
DL: Right. These sparring protective gears like the fingered glove was unavailable in the market then. We used the baseball hand glove to create the fingered glove. As for the head gear, it was recreated using the Western Boxing head gear used by the U.S. Navy. It was very hard. Also, there’s a chest guard that used to protect the chest. It was reconstructed using the Japanese Kendo’s chest guard. It was too hard as well. Later, Bruce personally designed the various supplementary training apparatuses and equipments. Coincidentally that Bruce had 2 Oakland students, i.e. George Lee and James Y. Lee who were capable enough to help Bruce completed these training equipments’ designs and productions. Especially the designs of kicking shield, head gear, chest guard and the groin guard which would bounce back when the opponent kicks with his instep etc. So, during our practical sessions, we chose our own self-designed and self-constructed apparatuses for training.

Q23: In an interview with the Black Belt magazine, Bruce officially announced to the public about his “Jeet Kune Do.” This was a significant milestone in the development history of JKD and how were you being involved?
DL: That time we were training in the Chinatown. After training, Bruce told me, “Dan, don’t go, please stay.” I replied, “Ok, is there anything else, Sifu?” Bruce said, “The Black Belt magazine will be coming a while later for an interview and take photos as well, you stay and help me with some demonstrations.” I said, “Ok.” Hence, after the lesson, Bruce and I did some demonstrations in our school and the Black Belt magazine’s photographer shot a series of photos on our demos.

Q24: When were you picked as Bruce’s backyard training partner?
DL: I can’t remember the specific date. It was about 2 years after Bruce moved his house. Probably in 1969, he said our training were insufficient. He was particularly interested in teaching martial arts then. Since he had only few cameo appearances in movie and TV series, so, he had a lot of free time. Besides his private teaching, he had found himself few students who he thought were agile and good in sparring to train with him in his backyard. Our weekend training in the Chinatown kwoon was closed-door and then we assembled at his house on every Wednesday afternoon for the backyard training. When he was available, he would say to me, “Please come for training on Wednesday.”

Q25: What did Bruce train you guys in the backyard? What was the training mainly about?
DL: There were fewer people in the backyard training, just a few of us who trained with Bruce. The training mainly focused on the speed of our punches and kicks, timing, distance, rhythm, elusiveness and reflexes etc. Bruce thought that punches and kicks are the most basic tools everyone would use in actual combat, thus, we must constantly strengthen them, refine them, be proficient in them and let them become part of our fighting’s instinctive reactions and movements so that they could simply and directly be exploited effectively in actual combats. Bruce didn’t teach us too many skills. Most of the time, we repeated the same old training drills on those frequently used yet practical, effective and simple skills. However, these drills stressed a lot on individual’s skills proficiency and competency.

For instance, in a clapping exercise, one person holds his palms in front of his body. The palms faced each other but are apart at a distance of around 6 inches. Then, another person would use his finger jab to poke through the 6 inches gap of the palms and then retreat straight away. This is to see your instinctive response. You have to response very quick by catching his finger jab through clapping. Things to note in this training: Firstly, the guy who is going to jab and hit mustn’t have any pre-movement. He has to act fast yet not tense. His goal is to practice how to secretly hit and retrieve fast; secondly, the other guy who is going to clap hands must train his reflexes and see whether the opponent has any small predictive movement. Once you move your body, he will clap immediately. Through this training, our movements and reflexes will enhance and become very fast. Generally, I did very well in hitting as I practiced very often in school and at home.

Also, there were all sorts of basic kicking drills like practiced various types of kicking with our groin guards on. There was a period of time where we did many kicking of sandbags. For instance, there’s a huge heavy bag at Bruce’s backyard which we trained our kicking. It allowed us to leap 3 big steps at a distance before thrusting our kicks. The focus target was to train our ability in basic movements, reflexes, adaptability etc. Relatively speaking, there were lesser pair exercises in the training.

Q26: What were some of the main footwork drills?
DL: They were actually the drills of the most basic JKD’s footwork. For instance, moving forward and backward; shifting to the left and dodge to the right; proceed to the front and retreat to the back; retreat to the back and then move forward again; rear leg drives, front leg leaps etc. etc. All were very much alive. When training alone, try to act as if there is enemy in-front, and then use various methods to train different types of footwork. The drills of traditional Karate were all mechanical movements though the demonstrations were usually very fanciful and eye-catching.

In JKD, we have to act flexibly, adapt and adjust to the changing conditions of the opponents. We are not demonstrating forms or katas, but we are training as close to the actual combat’s situation as possible. Sometimes, Bruce would play music to facilitate our footwork drill. On one hand, adjusting flexibly, controlling the fighting distance mutually, on the other hand, learn to feel and adapt to the rhythm of the opponent, and catch his movements’ beats sharply. Balance, distance, rhythm’s flexibility were all very significant areas in JKD footwork drills which we really paid attention to. All the footwork had to work in coordination with JKD’s basic punching and kicking. Punch firmly and at the same time, the irregular footwork, under the circumstances of irregular rhythms, must maintain the body’s stability and the swift changes to the center of the body weight. Much emphasis was placed in this area too.

Q27: Sifu, did you often have opportunities to spar with Bruce in the kwoon or at the backyard training?
DL: Hard to come by. In my impressions, there weren’t many times that I sparred with Bruce. But during the trainings, there were plenty of chances in sparring between the students. Bruce would watch us sparred and observed our skills and awareness, as well as guided us with various types of practical fighting methods in sparring. For instance, the method of full contact sparring using a combination of both hands and legs is different from the method of boxing solely with hands. Because the control of distance in boxing is different from the distance in applying leg kicking, and the method of hitting is also different. You not only need to control a safe distance in the sparring, avoid the opponent’s kick in perfect timing but you also need to counterattack quickly. Furthermore, you must be able to combine both your hands and legs, and close the gap instantly. It is just like the shadow, gripping the instantaneous beat of the retrieval of the opponent’s leg before dashing in and finishing him off with a strike! Back then, we trained very industriously just like we did in the class. If there’s nothing special, we would just head for home after training. I was very delighted that Bruce had a good impression on me and invited me for the backyard training.

Q28: You once let us touched your chin and we saw there was an old scar there. You said this was a “souvenir” left by Bruce. Could you please elaborate on the cause of this scar?
DL: One day after the backyard training, we put back on our casual attires and were in a discussion among ourselves in Bruce’s study room. Then, Bruce said, “I just got 2 sets of brand new 16 ounces boxing glove. Let me show them to you! See, they are beautiful.” Suddenly, Bruce turned to me and said, “Dan, didn’t you box?” I have never told him that I did boxing before, how did he know? Bruce continued, “Let’s have a try.” I was puzzled why out of a sudden he wanted to have a try with me? I found it too impolite to reject so agreed to his request to try out the size and the touch of the new boxing gloves.

We got into fighting stance. Bruce initiated the attack by throwing a punch at me. My natural response was to dodge and at the same time strike back. This is very common in boxing. I can’t remember what exactly happened in the end. However, another student and Inosanto were present at the scene. After the sparring, I asked him. He briefly described to me about what happened in the sparring between Bruce and me. I counterattacked and hit Bruce’s face lightly. Bruce was surprised and said, “ahh..your skills are pretty good.” Then we continued sparring and again, I hit him from another angle. Bruce said, “Ooh.” But these 2 hits might have really agitated him. He became serious and got back at me “Pop!…Pop!…Pop!…” with numerous punches continuously. I thought to myself this wasn’t formal training, we were just trying out these boxing gloves, why was he throwing heavy punches at me? As I respect my teacher so, I kept retreating, retreating, retreating until to the side of the desk in the study room. Both my hands then moved backwards automatically and held on to the edge of the desk. By right, the fight should have stopped by then but Bruce didn’t stop, “Pop!” a punch landed on my left chin. After this punch, he halted finally and I felt a sharp pain in my chin but I didn’t move. The whole sparring ended.

Later on, Bruce seemed like remembered something and asked Inosanto, “Today, were Dan and I very serious?” Insanto replied, “Of course, you were serious, too serious!” The next day, I was at home and when I yawned, I suddenly discovered my mouth was wide-opened and couldn’t close it. What’s wrong!? I used my hand to shake my chin, and then my mouth shut up. I thought, “Wow, Bruce’s punch was powerful and it has hit and hurt my gum inside, I’m injured.” Later, when the X-ray was out, I saw a tiny part of the gum inside was missing. When I opened my mouth, I could hear a “lok..lok” sound. You can also feel the missing part. This is the permanent memorabilia left by Bruce. Haha.. When I look back now, this was actually no big deal.

Q29: When Bruce returned to HK to pursue his movie career, he closed down his 3 Jun Fan Gung Fu Institutes. Did you know what the reasons were?
DL: It happened in 1970. That time, Bruce was lacking interest in running the schools and teaching too. He said his martial arts skill was for personal training and not for teaching. Hence, in 1970, he told Inosanto to close down the school and stopped teaching anymore. But there were still people coming forward to learn, so all of them went to Inosanto’s backyard to attend the JKD training. I couldn’t bear but the school was closed down eventually. Bruce later returned to HK to make Kung Fu movies, like The Big Boss, Fist of Fury etc. and became a superstar. Between 1970 and 1974, we trained in a comparatively bigger gym at Inosanto’s backyard.

Q30: After the closure of Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, can you tell us who were those that trained at Inosanto’s backyard?
DL: There were quite a number of them learning at Inosanto’s backyard but I couldn’t remember their names very clearly but all were old students. That time, Inosanto was living very far, in the southern part of LA. It took me 45 minutes to drive there. There were several students who also drove there to attend the training. From 1972 onwards, we were together for around 2 years. Later, in 1974, Inosanto opened his own martial arts school. He wanted to develop his own martial arts. So, the JKD training became a bit different and incorrect. I remembered he himself was also practicing and training along with few Filipinos’ Escrima experts. So, when we trained, we would practice JKD for a while, and these Escrima guys would say they wanted to share some martial arts skills of Inosanto.

At that time, Inosanto’s Filipino Martial Arts Academy was teaching about 10 various kinds of courses. I couldn’t differentiate the courses’ names. Actually, there were about 8-9 schools of Filipinos’ Escrima Arts. Inosanto learnt from every Escrima teachers and blended with his own skills. Those Filipinos teachers were not very pleased with him because he also mixed Bruce’s stuff in the Escrima Arts. When we went to train with Inosanto, his style changed and seemed inappropriate. After practicing JKD for 20 minutes, it was followed by the Escrima stick. After he established his martial arts school in 1974, I was thinking, it wasn’t right because I drove from a very far distance but my main training was no longer JKD, they were all those Filipinos’ stuff. I couldn’t care much since he is a Filipino. So, I told Inosanto, “It’s really far from my house. I think I’ll practice at my house in the future.” I wasn’t interested in Escrima stick. I just wanted to focus on learning the real essence in JKD and to continue training in this area. Hence, after 1974, we departed and have never been training together.

Q31: When did you begin your JKD training with some of the previous backyard JKD students in your own backyard?
DL: After I left Inosanto’s backyard training in 1974, I thought I still need to carry on practicing JKD. Thus, my house’s backyard, if you two could still remember, there is a big shed which I made. That’s where we had our trainings. I also taught Tai Chi separately from JKD on different occasions. In fact, I had been teaching Tai Chi for many years since 1969 and until 1992. For those Tai Chi students who were more interested in JKD, I would teach them. I never advertised and eventually, I counted, there were over 20 students training JKD at my backyard from 1976 until 1984. I taught JKD at the backyard for about 8 years.

Q32: After your retirement, besides backyard teaching, did you go abroad and give JKD seminars for a period of time?
DL: Yes. I was invited by Spain, U.K and various JKD schools in the U.S. to teach short-term JKD courses. Every time, the focus was to teach Bruce’s skills as well as interweaved with the Chinese Tai Chi’s Yin-Yang philosophy. At that time, I got to know many international JKD friends.

Q33: Nowadays, many people think that if they mixed and practiced their favorite martial arts skills together, it is called JKD. Could you tell us did you mix Wing Chun, Tai Chi and other forms of martial arts when you taught or practice JKD?
DL: No. I only specialized in teaching and practicing Bruce’s JKD and there’re no other additives. The essence of Chinese Taoist’s philosophy is the Tao of Simplicity. JKD’s philosophy is also the same. The martial arts wisdom of JKD embodies not in increasing but in decreasing. It incarnates in quality not quantity. Therefore, if we could use the most precise, simplified and direct way to defeat our opponents, then why waste time and energy to use complex methods? When we practice JKD, it has to be like what Bruce’s had emphasized, i.e. to achieve the maximum result with the minimum effort.

To put various types of martial arts together in JKD training, you know, Bruce had never taught in that way. In his book, “Bruce Lee’s Fighting Methods,” is there any teaching of Taekwondo, Thai Boxing, Filipinos’ Escrima? No. Mixing of all various types and forms of martial arts together are only embellishments. It couldn’t show the quintessence of JKD. Instead, it would disrupt its proper development. If we are bound by too many forms of skills, we’ll not be able to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances in real combat. Thus, the quintessence of JKD lies in its martial arts principles, i.e. simplicity, directness and non classical. In addition, it also includes the simple, scientific and overall combat strategy’s structure as well as the practical combat-oriented cum highly efficient training methods.

I’ve said before, JKD doesn’t rely on the blending of various techniques and skills in defeating the opponents but it stresses on the rhythm of the actual combat, the insight of the distance and timing, as well as adapting to the opponents and then knock the opponents down. We must be simple, direct and bring our innate potentials and instincts into full play. Therefore, I think it’s inappropriate on the act of mixing various kinds of martial skills in JKD. This goes against Bruce’s principle which he had repeatedly told us about the highest state of JKD’s goal. The direction in the first place is incorrect. JKD ain’t anything beyond but it’s anything within.

Q34: As early as 1996, we saw someone in the U.S. called the JKD which Bruce taught as “ORIGINAL JKD.” What are your views on this?
DL: Someone indeed dubbed Bruce’s JKD as “ORIGINAL JKD” but there is problem in its English name and Chinese interpretation. JEET KUNE DO is JEET KUNE DO, where the heck is there ORIGINAL or NOT ORIGINAL? Furthermore, I dislike the term “ORIGINAL.” ‘ORIGINAL” means the most ancient, the most fundamental. It’s better not to use this term anymore.

Q35: In your opinion, what is JKD?
DL: JKD is JKD as I said just now. JKD is what Bruce taught, said and wrote while he was alive. So, the real JKD is the method what Bruce taught us and the direction he pointed out. That is JKD. The 90% & above genuine JKD students or Bruce’s students were those that stress on the things they learnt from Bruce. The things that directly imparted from the founder, Bruce Lee were his martial arts ideas, fighting methods and training methods. However, JKD shouldn’t be absolutized or set an absolute norm for personal future development. Bruce hated boundary and learning martial arts shouldn’t have boundaries. Actually he was evolving all the time. He actually had developed the norms of basic JKD training, such as, the basic ready stance, skills in punching, kicking, footwork and bodywork etc. There is also sparring in the training as well. All these are good indeed. Bruce also said, “You cannot say this is JKD, that isn’t. If so, then cancel the name, “JKD” for it’s just a name.” So, for JKD, Bruce had developed the basic drills’ lesson topics and set their directions. This is good enough. At the end of the training, the JKD’s techniques of each individual may be different due to each individual’s development. I was largely influenced by Tai Chi. Hence, the direction of my personal development is the mutually co-existence of Ying-Yang in JKD, just like the JKD’s symbol. Whether JKD can continue to grow on the basis of Bruce’s JKD or not, it really all depends on individual’s hard work and effort.

Part 3: Photos of Dan Lee & others:

Inosanto’s Backyard Group:

(Part 4 to be continued next week...)

 Respond to this message   

  • Re: PART 3 of 5: Last Interview of the late Dan Lee (1930-2015) - jkdragon on Sep 9, 2016, 2:52 PM
  • Dan Lee said Inosanto wasn't teaching the BL's JKD - Shaolinguy on Sep 9, 2016, 5:00 PM
  • Bruce Lee was the pioneer of sparring gears. nt - Matt on Sep 10, 2016, 1:18 PM
  • Great article as usual! nt - Fred on Sep 10, 2016, 3:32 PM
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