Bruce taught me to dissect time into infinite degrees. It’s what he called ‘playing between the keys of the piano.’ It’s the understanding that you actually have worlds of time within seconds to do something unanticipated when your opponent is already committed to his announced [telegraphed] action.”
Sterling Silliphant, Bruce Lee: FIghting Words
In 1971, a quirky TV movie aired on the ABC Movie of the Week called Longstreet.
The movie was written by Sterling Silliphant, an Oscar winning writer (In the Heat of the Night) and a student of Bruce Lee. The show was picked up as a series whose debut episode was called “The Way of the Intercepting Fist.”
He also got Bruce some Hollywood work, writing him a memorable cameo in the James Garner movie Marlowe, where Bruce is a Mob enforcer who destroys Marlowe’s office. He also wrote Bruce a pivotal role for Longstreet.
Longstreet was a detective show about an insurance investigator who, while investigating some jewel thefts, is blinded and widowed by an explosion meant to silence him. A key character in the early shows was Li Tsung, who helps Longstreet regain his independence, basically by teaching him Wing Chun / Jeet Kune Do.
Duke Paige: What is this thing you do?
Li Tsing: In Catonese, Jeet Kune Do – the way of the intercepting fist.
Duke Paige: Intercepting fist, huh?
One of the things I find most interesting about this show is how much of Bruce’s subsequent media image seems to have been formed by this series. Whole swaths of the dialog show up in other media, such as Enter the Dragon (“boards don’t hit back”) and in Bruce’s famous interview with Pierre Berton (Be like water, my friend”).
I suspect this is because Silliphant was able to artfully take Bruce’s teachings and style of speaking and turn it into great dialog. Then Bruce naturally was able to use these well-written versions of his teachings which he had memorized for the show.
I saw this show when it aired (I was 9). I was of course interested in the discussions of how to fight (being a small kid and a wise ass, a bad combination). I was intrigued by the combination of philosophy and violence explored on the show. Bruce often said very ambiguous things, which drew me in with more force, the mystery something to chew on, like the Japanese kōan. What does that mean? Fighting without fighting? No style?
From Sports section of http://www.complex.com/
Its interesting to me that this is even a conversation, but its still interesting.
There is a great reservoir of magical thinking that surrounds Chinese fighting arts. Even though I sometimes follow the convention of calling a style of fighting an art, I am actually in the camp with Wong Shun Leung that Wing Chun (and other forms of kung fu fighting styles) are skills, not arts. The worth of an art is something that is assessed based on an aesthetic (opinion).
Skills either work or they don’t.
But many people still believe in “Dim Mak” and magical Qi powers. My experience is that some of these phenomenon exist but they are exceedingly difficult to cultivate (taking years of effort) and even then, they don’t turn you into Superman. This is the clear message we get from the tragedy of the Boxer Rebellion at the start of the 20th Century. Iron Shirt Chi Gung won’t stop bullets.
In unarmed fighting, size matters. Chinese systems like Wing Chun and Hung Gar and Bagua are just fighting technologies that are not inherently superior to other methods of fighting. Any highly skilled fighter in any fighting skill is potentially dangerous and physics always plays a great role, despite the various tactics used to try and offset advantages of power or size.
“First courage, then power, then skill” is a standard Chinese saying in this regard.
Bruce Lee was a great admirer of Ali and used to study his fight films, even shadow boxing with Ali’s projected image. Many have commented that Lee’s dancing footwork is Ali-like.
In the book The Making of Enter the Dragon, director Robert Clause recounted a conversation related to him by Bolo Yeung (the big muscular Chinese guy from that film). “Bruce knew he could never win a fight against Ali. ‘Look at my hand,’ he said. ‘That’s a little Chinese hand. He’d kill me.'”
Bruce Lee was 5-foot-7 and weighed 145 pounds.
Muhammad Ali was 6-foot-3 and weighed 200+.
Do the math!
I know, I know — Bruce Lee did a lot of Biu Jee (darting fingers) and so forth, but Ali was big and strong and fast and had amazing reflexes. He demonstrated many times his capacity to knock out heavyweights with strong chins (Liston, Foreman, etc). He outweighed Lee by 60 pounds. There is a reason people use the phrase “pound for pound” when discussing fighters!
We can all learn form Lee (again!) and take a dose of reality in regard to our fight fantasies. The first step toward improvement is realistic self-assessment.
Understanding the genius of Ving Tsun should not take longer than an afternoon. By then, everything should be clear….Following that, it becomes about deciding how you can achieve these goals most efficiently. This is also a part of the system…Unfortunately, Ving Tsun is too perfect, such that in one’s life-span, no more than approx. 70% of it can be mastered even with great efforts! The Human Factor, as always.”– Philipp Bayer
NOTES: Check out the section showing Sifu Bayer doing a Lap Sau demo with Wong Shun Leung. Many people mistakenly do a sort of hammer fist against the Bong, but it is correct to make this a punch with an angle toward the head. The partner forms a bong against your forward pressure and you get your elbow down and then punch forward (from the elbow).
Also, in the Shawn Obasi footage below, Sifu Bayer does a combination — a series starting with a Bong, then a Cover (Jut), a Fung Hau (Knife Hand) with the Bong hand (Bong goes to Fung Hau very easily), and a Lap (which snaps Obasi forward, breaking his structure). This is very effective the way he does it because its all so fluid, in almost one motion. This is the magic of thousands of hours of training. A series of actions become fluid and can be applied in what appears to an observer (like the guy on the receiving end) to be a blur. In someone else, I would consider this to be a little flowery (i.e., risky), but he does it so fast, with such control of the opponent and his centerline, that it is a very functional set of actions.
See how easily Sifu Bayer pops Obasi’s significant weight, bouncing him back with little effort — THAT’S STRUCTURE.
“A core part of the way I train people is around the interplay of themes or principles and habits. The habits are what we can actually train…the principles are what we are trying to embody.”
Josh Waitzkin, on The Tim Ferris Show
When I started writing this blog in 2012, I was mostly driven by my desire to create the sort of resource (map) that was lacking when I started trying to find and then learn a functional approach to Wing Chun.
It’s no secret that many people who have trained in various Wing Chun schools discover their “skills” are not up to handling the sort of attacks they encounter from other fighters using other styles. I looked for 8 years (because I’m crazy like that) until I found a teacher whose approach to Wing Chun (if you put in the hard work) was capable of handling any comers.
I always knew it existed and I found it and then I wanted to share what I had learned. I wanted to share the the short-cuts I’d eventually found, and most importantly, the basic ideas. Ideas are ultimately what make the difference. As my Sigung says, “An ox works hard all day, but when night comes, he’s still an ox.” You need the right ideas so you can train smart and not waste your time.
Over the course of writing hundreds of posts, I’ve discovered my “wheelhouse” or place in the Wing Chun community.
My job is to find the best ideas in Wing Chun and the best ideas from outside which can support Wing Chun and present them in a clear and simple fashion. To put it more bluntly, my job is to separate the “shit from the Shinola” and present my findings. Like a museum curator, I sift through the vast amount of information and bring only the jewels to your attention. The real and the true.
The best ideas from outside Wing Chun often come from either other styles (Boxing, BJJ, etc) or the sciences, such as Engineering and Psychology. They often show up inside books, such as The Art of Learning.
One of the most important skills you have to learn in order to go from beginner to intermediate as a fighter (or anything really) is the intelligent self-assessment combined with goal setting.
You have to check yourself, see where you are, and figure out how to take the next few steps. This is what my Sifu calls a “training direction.”
“If even for a blink of an eye you can control two of the other guy’s limbs with one of yours, either with angle or timing or some sort of clinch, then the opponent is in grave danger. The free hand can take him apart.”
Waitzkin’s book is a chronicle of how he learned to learn. This is a key concept and deserves emphasis.
The most valuable skill you can possess in the world is to know how to learn.
He goes into great detail examining the skills he developed on his way to becoming first a child prodigy chess player (he was the subject of the film Searching for Bobby Fishcher), then a world class Tai Chi Push Hands fighter (under William Chen), then a black black in Brazilian Ju Jitsu under Marcelo Garcia (considered by many to be one of the best pound for pound submission grapplers in the world, with whom Waitzkin started a BJJ school in New York).
Waitzkin boils his lessons down into principles and methods for going deeper into your art. His book took me a long time to read, because its deep and very nuanced.