London Wing Chun Feature: the Genius of Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee is the undisputed master of 20th century martial arts. No other martial artist before or since Bruce Lee has attained the same level of admiration or inspired so many. Why is this? Because Bruce Lee was a one-of-a-kind revolutionary thinker whose dedication to self-improvement propelled him to challenge established systems, break boundaries and create new approaches to martial arts training. Lee was not merely a great martial artist, he was a charismatic philisopher who could convey his concepts to the masses with maximum impact.
Bruce Lee's Wing Chun Training:
At the age of six Lee recieved his first introduction to martial arts when he was taught the basics of Wu style Tai Chi Chuan by his father. Following this, from the age of 13 - 18 Bruce Lee trained in Wing Chun under Sifu Ip Man after being introduced to the style by William Cheung (now a world-famous Wing Chun master in his own right). Historical accounts indicate that throughout the majority of his Wing Chun studies, Lee trained under Ip Man's senior students Wong Shun-Leung and William Cheung.
As a result, Leung and Cheung are believed to have played pivotal roles in Bruce Lee's Wing Chun training. Eventually, Bruce Lee did gain the opportunity to receive private tuition directly from Ip Man after a number of students (Leung and Wong not included) refused to train with him due to his half German ancestry. According to William Chueng, Bruce Lee progressed quickly in his Wing Chun training and was able to out-box many of his seniors in only a short period of study. In 1958 Bruce Lee combined the Wing Chun he learned under Ip Man with boxing. This mixture of the sweet science with chinese kung fu proved to be devastating - Bruce Lee entered a Hong Kong boxing competition and defeated 3-time champion Gary Elms by knockout in the 3rd round. In the qualifying bouts of the competition Bruce Lee had also knocked out 3 consecutive boxers in the first round.
Despite his undoubted skill, there remains widespread uncertainty within the Wing Chun community as to exactly how much of the Wing Chun system Bruce Lee learned. Some claim Bruce Lee only trained for three years, others say five years, some say he only learned as much as Chium Kiu (the second empty hand form) yet notes he compiled for his own martial arts style Jeet Kune Do directly refer to the use of Bil Jee techniques, thus indicating he had been introduced to concepts from the final empty hand form of the Ip Man Wing Chun system. What is clear however is that of all the Chinese martial arts Bruce Lee encountered, he regarded Wing Chun as by far the most effective. This is further reflected by the fact that Lee incorporated many of the fundamental concepts of Wing Chun in his later Jun Fan and Jeet Kune Do fighting systems.
Bruce Lee Wing Chun Video Footage:
This intriguing video shows Bruce Lee performing the opening movements of Sil Lim Tao form, Lap-Sau-Punch combinations and Chi Sau demonstrations. As this archive footage reveals Bruce Lee was extremely passionate about Wing Chun and was able to execute fundamental techniques with lighting speed. That said, something appeared to fundamentally changed Bruce Lee's approach to martial arts after he moved to America in 1959. Although Bruce Lee was able to use his Wing Chun to devastating effect in streetfights in Hong Kong, whilst living in California he began to increasingly branch out into different styles of martial arts which he would subsequently combine with Wing Chun to create his own mixed martial art.
Bruce Lee: Jun Fan Gung Fu, Jeet Kune Do and the Birth of MMA
From the moment he arrived in America, Bruce Lee began teaching kung fu to private students. In 1963 he opened his first Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute where he gave classes in practical, direct and effective martial arts to people of all men and women of all religions and races. This at the time was a highly controversial decision, as many in the Chinese community regarded Kung Fu as a national treasure which should be taught only to Chinese people. It was also around this time that Bruce Lee developed close relationships with other skilled practitioners from other styles of martial arts such as Jhoon Rhee (one of the pioneers of Tae-Kwon-Do in America), Taky Kimura and Dan Inosanto all of whom inspired Bruce Lee to continually redevelop his fighting methods.
Alarmed by the popularity of the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, elders of the Chinese community in California summoned Bruce Lee to fight a challenge match against a formidable kung fu expert named Wong Jack. Ultimately, Bruce Lee defeated Wong Jack with ease and earned the right to teach kung fu to anyone he wanted. However, according to historical accounts Lee was dissatisfied with his performance believing that he took too long to defeat his opponent. Some experts on Bruce Lee claim that he began to develop his second fighting system Jeet Kune Do (translated as The Way of the Intercepting Fist) as a direct result of his fight with Wong Jack in an attempt to create a supremely efficient form of martial arts which would incorporate only the very best techniques from a wide selection of styles including (but not limited to) Ju Jitsu, Boxing. Karate, Savate, Wing Chun, Thai Boxing and Kali. In doing so, Bruce Lee sowed the seeds of later 'integrated', 'cross-training' and mixed martial arts systems. On reading 'Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do' (edited by John Little) it is clear that whilst Lee sought to strip away all useless and ineffective techniques from his system, he simultaneously wanted to promote positive philosophical principles which could be applied to both fighting and all aspects of human life.
Art Mirroring Real Martial Arts
In his complimentary status as the world's first international martial arts movie superstar, it is clear to see that Bruce Lee wanted his onscreen action to reflect his approach to fighting. In comparison to many other Chinese martial arts movies of the same era which featured white bearded shaolin monks and wu-tang warriors fighting with extravagant animal styles, Bruce Lee's movies had a grittier more realistic edge. The below video from Fist of Fury perfectly illustrates the authenticity and minimalism of Bruce Lee's martial choreography:
Video: Bruce Lee Fist of Fury/ The Chinese Connection Fight Scene
In the above scene Lee's character Chen Zhen seamlessly transfers from rapid wing chun pak sau punch combinations, to high kicks, to ground fighting. Whilst Enter the Dragon may have proved the most commercially successful of Lee's films, arguably the most fascinating footage belongs to his unfinished opus Game of Death. Provided below are a number of videos showing unfinished fight sequences which were not fully included in the final version of Game of Death (which was completed after Lee's death).
Video: The Lost Scenes of Game of Death Part 1
Video: The Lost Scenes of Game of Death Part 2
Video: The Lost Scenes of Game of Death Part 3
Video: The Lost Scenes of Game of Death Part 4
The scenes from Game of Death demonstrate Lee's appreciation of all fighting styles and desire to showcase the strengths and weaknesses of each respective art. In the last scene where Lee's character blinds his giant-sized opponent by breaking holes in the blinds that encase the room emphasizes that truly skilled fighters win by out-thinking their opponents.
Bruce Lee's Legacy
The more a student matures in their martial arts training, the greater the wealth of knowledge they will derive from Bruce Lee's work. Through all-too-brief ghostly amateur footage of informal training sessions, iconic movies, and extensive written notes on his philosphical and physical development martial artists of all levels can attain invaluable and inspirational insights. Many continue to argue over the events surrounding Lee's untimely death, who his true successors are and whether the Jeet Kune Do that is taught today embodies Lee's true intentions. The author of this article prefers to ponder on the prospect of what further contributions Bruce Lee would have made to the world of martial arts had he lived longer.