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. Or, Silliphant just put Bruce’s words and metaphors in the screenplay (giving Bruce more credit!).
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 resulting in the occasional beat down). 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? Even at 9, these words were intriguing and mysterious.