Bruce Lee, Wing Tsun 詠春 & The SF Bay Area
San Francisco’s most famous native
On a Wednesday in San Francisco Bruce Lee was born. The date was November 27, 1940. It was the year of the Dragon.
Bruce Lee’s roots in SF Chinatown
Bruce’s Mother, Grace Ho came from a prominent Hong Kong business family. Daughter of a Chinese businessman and a German mother. Bruce’s Father, Lee Hoi Chuen (李海泉) was a martial artist specializing in Tai Chi Chuan. He also was famous Cantonese Opera Singer. And while on tour in San Francisco was forced to extend his stay when his wife went into labor. They named their son Lee Jun Fan (李振藩) and the baby spent his first three months in the City by the Bay. Before returning to Hong Kong for the first time.
Hong Kong’s theatrical world was interwoven with Bruce Lee’s childhood. Bruce became a child actor in Hong Kong cinema. Then the age of 13 he became a student of Yip Man. And with Yip Man’s Wing Tsun training group. His journey into martial arts had begun, it would change the world.
The Dragon Returns to San Francisco
Bruce was a rambunctious 18-year-old when his frustrated parents sent him on a steamship to San Francisco in 1959. After landing in San Francisco Bruce made his way to Seattle. He made ends meet working at a restaurant that gave him room and board. During his time in Seattle Bruce enrolled at the University of Washington. His major was philosophy. Of course, he was always training and teaching Kung Fu.
In 1964 and a sophomore in college Bruce married his wife Linda. The same year he left Seattle for Oakland CA to open a brick-and-mortar Kung Fu school. Downtown at 4175 Broadway Street. This where Bruce entered the world of SF Bay Area martial arts.
San Francisco California
Home of the oldest Chinatown outside of China
In the United States, but also throughout his life. Bruce Lee had a foot in two worlds. Discrimination was a part of Bruce is life in the United States because of his Chinese ancestry. While some of the Chinese community in the US and Hong Kong. Held disdain for Bruce because they thought he was too western. And because Bruce was a quarter German (not full Chinese).
Bruce remained undeterred to teach his Kung Fu to the public in the US. A certain group people in the Chinese community in the SF Bay Area were offended by Bruce, they challenge him to a duel. The agreement being if Bruce was too loose, he would cease teaching Kung Fu. The conflict was resolved in a contest in San Francisco’s Chinatown against Wong Jack Man. A Sifu of Northern Style Chinese Kung Fu who taught at Fort Mason.
Bruce was representing himself and his own take on martial arts, but also his roots of Wing Chun. Bruce won his match, but it was hard won. It sent him on a personal journey to look deeper into martial arts.
Along with Wing Tsun. Bruce studied many other forms of martial arts before founding his own art. Jun Fun Jeet Kune Do (振藩截拳道).
Which translates as Bruce Lee’s way of the intercepting fist
Trouble with Sifu Yip Man
In 1965 a year before Bruce’s big break on The Green Hornet television show. He returned to Hong Kong with his wife Linda and their children. Bruce approached his Sifu and asked for some lessons. He also asked that he be able to film Sifu Yip Man on 8 mil film for his own training. In return, Bruce offered to buy Yip Man a condominium in Hong Kong to live in. Yip Man could have used the apartment, but the transactional nature of the request offended the Sifu. He denied Bruce’s request, his mind could not be changed.
Jesse Glover was Bruce Lee’s first and best student. Jesse is an American martial arts icon in his own right. Jesse passed away in June of 2012.
German Wing Tsun meets
American Jeet Kune Do
The movements Jesse Glover taught to Kernspecht originated from Bruce Lee’s interpretation of Wing Tsun. They differed greatly from what Keith had learned from Leung Ting. They were the origins of the martial art style Bruce was tailoring for himself, Jeet Kune Do.
What Kernspecht learned from Jesse he later incorporated into his student grade programs. Lat-Sau programs one through four. These attacks were elbow control & grabs combined with back-fists and low strikes. The idea being that a Wing Tsun student experiences these attacks. Then learns to use their Wing Tsun to counter them. This training platform remains with us in Bay Mountain today.
In 1982 Grandmaster Kernspecht recalled his visit to Seattle in a German publication. He said of his visit (translated from German):
“When I first met Jesse, he seemed to me grumpy, briefly tied up and little interested in a thought exchange. But he and Ed (Ed Hart) did the same for me and my wife. Jesse is a man of over 220 pounds of body weight and of corresponding bullish power. Despite the body mass, he moves astonishingly fast.
Behind his chain fists and push-pulls, tremendous force was stuck. When he showed me Chi-Sau, it occurred to me that he only practiced a few attack combinations. But that he could quickly and explosively reach the target. After the demo, it ached in my arms, to try it with him, because just Chi-Sau is the discipline in the Wing Tsun, which I particularly love and daily five to eight hours with my students. When I asked Jesse to Chi-Sau (a kind of Wing Tsun contest, with the arms at the beginning of contact). He looked at me with compassion. “With people who have been learning in Hong Kong, we have already done Chi-Sau. The guys have no pressure and make their Chi-Sau in front of the head instead of the upper body. This makes their techniques too weak, and the breast and larynx are unprotected.” We tried to get it together, but after a few movements Jesse’s face brightened, and I felt something like the expression of recognition. We could work really well together, and indeed, Jesse was the Chi Sau Partner who could take up and reciprocate my forward flowing glowing energy.”
Bruce Lee changed the world
Bruce Lee of course became one of the world’s most famous movie stars. Engaging with the racist outlooks of the producers in Holywood. Bruce returned to the Hong Hong film scene to film The Big Boss (1971), Fists of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), and his ultimate blockbuster Enter the Dragon (1972).
On July 20, 1973 in Hong King. Bruce Lee died under auspicious circumstances while filming Game of Death. The official cause of death after and autopsy was a brain edema as an adverse reaction to pain medication. Bruce was survived by his wife Linda and his children Brandon (RIP 1993) and Shannon.
Bruce’s legacy has changed the martial arts world particularly in the US forever. It is obvious to say that many thousands of people train martial arts today because of Bruce Lee is some way. He remains in the public consciousness today. And thousands of people across the world train Jeet Kune Do, a martial art he founded. And one that is part of the Wing Chun 詠春 family tree.
“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” –Bruce Lee