Bruce Lee was just an ordinary individual who had a dream. The difference between him and most people was that he decided to do something about it. He knew that in order to realize his dream of becoming number one martial artist it would take more than just determination and drive. It would also take the patience to learn and understand all facets of the martial arts so that he could eliminate the unnecessary and keep only that which was essential.
I was fortunate to have met Bruce while he was still organizing his thoughts and ideas. (We met in 1960 when we were both taking some of the same classes at Edison Technical School in Seattle, Washington.)
In those early years before Bruce became well known, he spent much of his time not only practising martial arts, but also working at any job that would allow him to survive. Many times I went to meet Bruce so that we could work out only to be told that Bruce would not be allowed to leave until he had cleaned all the floors at Ruby Chow’s restaurant. (Ruby Chow was Bruce’s American sponsor; Bruce lived upstairs over her restaurant and was required to sweep the floors every day.) Bruce also worked at the local newspaper, The Seattle Times, every Saturday night stuffing the comic section into the Sunday paper.
There was a small group of us that gathered together during and after school so that we could practice our techniques. Many days we would practice for as long as five or six hours, exploring the principles of different styles and techniques in order to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Since we had no protective equipment, we all experienced many minor injuries, which were due not only to our own awkwardness, but also to the enthusiasm that Bruce instilled in all our practice sessions.
Many of the things that Bruce did appeared to be games, but we were later to find out he was always serious. He was constantly looking for ways to improve techniques that would allow him to be faster, stronger and more efficient. He surrounded himself with people who were not only good fighters on their own, but who were also big and fast.
In fact, most of us outweighed him anywhere from 50 to 100 pounds. Bruce felt that in order to improve it was necessary to go against someone who made him work. Time and time again he would get frustrated trying a technique against us only to find it would not work. But he knew that if he kept trying and modified the technique, he would finally find the way to overcome us, and needless to day, he always did.
We used to practice wherever was available at the time – basements, parking lots and in each others’ homes. It was during these dynamic sessions that Bruce developed his famous one and three inch floating punch, whereby he could generate sufficient power from a short distance to lift someone 200 pounds off his feet and knock him into a chair a short distance away.
However, Bruce did not restrict himself to practice sessions, but liked to try out a new approach to any technique whenever the thought hit him. It did not matter if we were walking down a hallway or a staircase, or sitting on a bus. He would inmediately get very excited and ask you to pretend like you were the opponent doing some technique; then he would show you how he was going to overcome it.
Bruce Lee was a very mile individual who did not like physical violence, but if anyone insulted him or his family or tried to take advantage of another person, he quickly learned he had better be able to back it up.
One time we were walking down the street in Chinatown. Bruce was walking slightly ahead of us. There was a young Oriental lady standing on the street waiting for someone. A car, filled with a number of men, pulled up beside her and the man closest to the window reached out as if to grab the girl and told her to get in the car. She tried to ignore him but he became belligerent and forceful.
Meanwhile, Bruce had stopped to observe, and when he felt enough was enough he walked over close to the car and told the man he should mind his business and leave the girl alone. The man leaned out the window and made a threatening gesture. Before we could even see what had happened, Bruce snapped the man’s arm against the car, and at the same time backfisted the man to the nose, splatting blood over the car and Bruce’s pants. It was only at that time we began to react and move towards the car.
Seeing us, the driver of the car quicly sped away. Bruce’s only comment was to tel the girl that she should be careful standing done in the evening in Chinatown since it was a rough area.
It was seeing both the intelectual and physical side of Bruce Lee that caused us to respect him. He knew the dream he wanted to fulfil and constantly strove to achieve it.
I feel a great sense of pride and pleasure in being one of his first students and having helped him to develop his original style which was later to become Jeet Kune Do.
In 1962 Bruce gathered a few of us together to produce his now famous book, THE PHILOSOPHICAL ART OF SELF DEFENCE. It is unfortunate that more of his thoughts and ideas were not presented in book form. In fact, after reading the book that his wife had published, THE TAO OF JEET KUNE DO, I fett disappointed that Bruce’s thoughts and ideas are only presented in fragmented pieces and bits which can only be understood by so very few of us.
After Bruce’s death, I felt it was my duty as one of his disciples to share with those who are interested all the theories and techniques that Bruce shared with me. Not only am I writing a series of special training manuals, but I am also holding training programs throughout the United States.
– James Demile