This article was written by Sifu Dan Inosanto for IKF Magazine.
For a time while he was a student at the University of Washington (circa 1962), Bruce seriously contemplated a nationwide chain of kung-fu schools. Several years later, when his spiraling “Kato” fame would have certainly ensured the success of such a venture, he discarded the idea, saying this was no the way to bring out the art. And then as his movie career started to break, he realized here was the proper medium for enlightening the public to the true meaning behind the martial disciplines.
In the intervening years, though, Bruce did establish three kwoon in Seattle, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Yet all were “non-commercial” to the extent there were no signs anywhere on the outside to identify them.
When Bruce first came to America from Hong Kong, he didn’t waste any time in adjusting this system to fit the new environment. Indeed, he was astutely aware the compact movements and close-range tactics of Wing Chun, which were ideal for the overcrowded conditions in the Far East, were ill-suited to the sprawling metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Seattle – his first two stops.
To further illustrate the profound impact environment can have on one’s fighting method, I would mention there exists a style of Filipino sword-fighting which teaches its practitioners to respond to encounter by immediately dropping to the ground in a seated posture.
Ridiculous, you say?
Sure, if the assault takes place on solid footing, such as a parking lot or deserted street corner. But there is an unusually heavy rainfall in the region where this style comes from, which leaves the ground so muddy and slippery that after the first stroke the practitioner invariably slips anyway.
As he began to realize Wing Chun placed too much emphasis on close-range or in-fighting (hand techniques) at the expense of long-range (kicking techniques) fighting, Bruce incorporated some of the more refined kicks of the Northern Chinese styles. And it is this hybrid form of Wing Chun we refer to today as Jun Fan.
Originally, though, the term Jun Fan was used to designate the school – not art – of Bruce Lee. You see, Jun Fan Gung-Fu Institute was the name Bruce gave to the non-commercial establishments in Seattle, Oakland, and Los Angeles; and alter on the meaning against shifted somewhat to mean “the place where Jeet Kune Do trains.” Then once Jeet Kune Do was frmly established as an entity in itself, Jun Fan was looked upon as the art that Bruce taught in Seattle and Oakland – which was more Wing Chun oriented with additional kicking techniques. Jeet Kune Do, then, is really a liberated form of Jun Fan; it encompasses much more. But Jun Fan is still part of the total art. You can’t separate the two.
His wife, Linda, recalls Bruce started impromptu teaching in the Seattle area even before he was officially enrolled at the University of Washington. Blessed with superior talent and a dynamic personality, it’s not surprising he attracted highly visible – if small – group of devotees. Among them was Japanese-American named Taky Kimura, then well into his 30s (Bruce was not yet 20).
Taky recalled how he first became acquainted with Bruce and his art:
“I was taking judo around 1959. And I got hurt two or three times so it was pretty frustrating. In fact, I was running around with my arm in a sling when one of the fellows that knew Bruce dropped by the supermarket where I was working. He told me he’d met this young man from Hong Kong who was ‘phenomenal’. Of course, I took it with a grain of salt because by that time I’d seen a little bit of everything and I couldn’t believe there was anything more to be seen. During that time these guys were working out in backyards and in public parks. So I went to one of the athletic fields down by the university, and that’s where I first met him. I was so impressed when he unleashed his power and speed that I asked if I could join the group and for about a year we met for several hours on Sunday. After class we would go to a Chinese restaurant and listen to Bruce philosophize over a cup of tea.”
By this time, too. Bruce was becoming increasingly disenchanted with his setup at Ruby Chow’s. A Seattle restaurant owner and prominent figure in local politics, she had consented to let him stay in one of the rooms above her restaurant in exchange for his services as a busboy and waiter. But, as Taky recalls, “Ruby Chow could be a very domineering person and, in fact, Bruce could be too. So I think there was a little personality clash, and he recognized it was time to get out of there. But Bruce was also a very proud young man and felt he had to make it on his own rather than become a burden on his father by having him send money. And since he was endowed with all this knowledge of martial arts, the guys in the group he was training gathered together and decided to open up a school and try to get some money for him.”
Taky also remembers trying to impress upon the young instructor in spite of his age, he was Bruce’s most dedicated and determined student – and how it eventually paid off. “I was working twice as hard as the other guys,” he explains, “because I was much older than them. One day I was looking out of the corner of my eye to see if this made any impression on Bruce. Of course, he knew exactly what I was doing and I heard him say to one of the other guys: ‘He’ll never make it.’ Naturally this drove me to try that much harder. And even though I was very clumsy, I think he saw I was very dedicated and sincere in what I was trying to do.”
“Then he started to work with me and kind of took me aside and showed me a lot of extra things. The next thing I knew he was grooming me to be his assistant. As time wore on, I did become his assistant instructor, and more or less conducted all his classes.”
“The first school was down in Chinatown, simply because, I suppose, we were more familiar with that area than anywhere else and it was a smaller group at that time. Shortly thereafter, we recognized the limitations of the Chinatown location and since he was going to the university, we felt there would be more potential out that way.”
So the Jun Fan Gung-Fu Institute was relocated along University Way, promoting Bruce and his assistant to step up the demonstrations they had been giving on campus and at various fraternity houses in hopes of drumming up additional business. Initially they were quite successful and maintained what Taky terms “plush” headquarters in a ground floor studio that was part of a brand new apartment complex. The enrollment fee was $22 per month and $17 for juniors.
During one of Bruce’s early demonstrations, a Japanese Karate black belt took exception to his outspoken opinions and ideas and issued a challenge. Bruce tried to explain it was not his intention to downgrade any particular system but rather to clarify his own methods. But the Karate expert persisted in demanding a bout, telling the sizable crowd that Bruce didn’t “know anything. Don’t listen to this guy”. So Bruce was forced to accept the challenge, and the two departed for a nearby handball court. The challenger wanted first to establish certain ground rules, such as no punching to the head or groin, and going against his usual practice, Bruce accommodated him to an acceptable degree. Still, the outcome of the brief (11 seconds) match was never in doubt. The Karate man opened with a strong kick which Bruce effortlessly avoided before punching his opponent from one end of the court to the other. When it was all over, the challenger lay in a pool of blood. And, as Taky explains, Bruce was quite magnanimous about the whole affair. “The Karate guy was out of school for a whole week after the fight and when he came back, he told all his friends he’d been in a car accident. Rather than embarrass him any further, Bruce just let it go at that.”
About this article: This article was written by Sifu Dan Inosanto as part of a series of articles called “In the 20th Century” in IKF magazine (of which he was a contributing editor in the late 80s, early 90s).
About the video: A personal account by Sifu Taky Kimura on his first meeting with Bruce Lee. This is one of many personal accounts by Sifu Taky available on the Bruce Lee App, available at BruceLeeApp.com.
Filed in: Dan Inosanto