The following transcript came from The Bruce Lee Memorial Issue magazine published by Black Belt magazine -- © 1974 by Rainbow Publications
Bruce Lee as seen through the eyes of students of Jeet Kune Do
My relationship with Bruce was as a friend and an instructor. As a friend, I don't think I've had anyone who has helped me as much as Bruce has. As an instructor, I feel I am very fortunate to have trained under him.
Bruce taught us that Jeet Kune Do was a means of knowing yourself physically, spiritually, and emotionally. His main theme was to seek truth and liberate ourselves. He stressed learning to depend on ourselves for expression rather than blindly following his instruction, to be creative and not bound by the principles of karate, or boxing, or wrestling. He always stressed creativity.
Bruce felt that knowledge in life and in the martial arts comes from oneself, but that it has to be awakened in you. He often said to me that I shouldn't teach, but guide. In fact, that was one of the criticisms that he had of me. He said, "Dan, you try to teach too much. This is not karate. This is not kenpo. This is not kung-fu. The best thing you can do for your students is to give them a feeling of success. Guide your students to find their own capabilities and their: own talents. Help them grow. Force them to do their own problem solving, by giving them frustration. Guide them to find the cause of their ignorance. "
This is the main thing Bruce tried to stamp into me. Give them .learning experiences. Make them experience things that normally they wouldn't experience fighting only against a Japanese stylist, or a Chinese stylist, or a Korean stylist, or an Okinawan stylist. I don't think anyone could teach as well as Bruce. He could get you emotionally involved. He didn't like to teach more than three students. In fact, in all his teachings, he never taught more than six students at one time. I think he felt that teaching could not take place if you had more than six students, that you would be drilling like a karate class, and he didn't want that. He wanted me to carry on the art in the same manner. He said, "Only have six students, Dan." But we've gotten a little bit crowded, and I've had to take a little more than 12 students.
Within the Jeet Kune Do organization, I feel there are people who are much more talented than I am, who are physically better than I am. Bruce could have picked any instructor, but he chose me. I don't know why. But I feel honored that he spent the time with me. It was just like a dream to me.
Bruce once looked at me and said, "Ability is of no concern. A man's personality is the primary thing, the thing I choose." He wanted a person of good character. He wanted a person with a good moral background. He didn't have to be a perfect person because no one is really perfect. But Bruce's main concern was he didn't want the art to be like karate. He didn't want to open a commercial school. This is one of the promises that I made to him, that I would never open up a commercial school under the name Jeet Kune Do. He said, "You could probably make some money out of it. But I'd be very disappointed if you did." So I have always kept this in mind.
We have a class here in Los Angeles. It's a small place -- 30 by 40-- but we screen carefully. There's a board, and if there are five votes, the member goes in. The board is very selective nowadays. The older members got together recently and wanted me to really tighten up. I have a vote, but the other 10 do also, and usually five to eight votes will get you in.
I recall that Bruce reacted indifferently to the fame he had received in recent years. He really didn't think too much of it. He used to talk about it, but I think he was very humble, I know you'll hear conflicting stories that he was cocky, but it was a kind of cockiness that came from experience and confidence. He was such a perfectionist that sometimes he would lose his patience with himself and me. That was the only fault he had, if you could call it a fault. But in the long run, I found out that it really helped me.
When Bruce was in Northern California, he taught a little of his method to some black belts, and they turned around and added it to their system, This really upset him, By the time he came to Los Angeles and founded the idea of Jeet Kune Do, he was very reserved about completely showing his method to others. But if you take Bruce Lee's stuff, you can take any style and make it better-one hundred percent better-because it gives you a set of principles to follow. I could go back and open a kenpo school, and just by flowering it up with Jeet Kune Do a little bit, I could make my kenpo much more functional. Dan Lee has made his t'al chi and his boxing functional from having known Bruce. I understand my escrima [a Filipino form of combat using sticks, clubs, short sabre, swords, lance, and empty hands] much better because of Bruce. By using his principles and following his creative methods, Bruce could perform escrima even though he had no formal training in it.
Bruce was creative and original. He advanced in the martial arts because he dared to question the principles that were laid as rules, or foundations. Bruce said, "There is no rule that has been set down that cannot be broken. It might have been functional at one time, but it may not be functional today." He didn't believe in things like ippon kumite, one-stage freestyling, or three-stage sparring, as they refer to it. He felt it was dead; not alive. And even in his basics, he tried to make things alive. He said, "A drill has to be functional. It has to be close to the reality.” If it was not, he would throw it out.
I've tried to follow this concept even in my physical education teaching. If a drill never occurs in a game situation or in a real-life situation, why do it? You're never practicing it the way you would practice in a game situation. Reverting back to martial arts, I feel you should take all these martial arts drills and make them functional. Of course, there are drills that make you stronger, faster, give you better agility-things like that. Well, that's different, for a different purpose. As far as the fighting skill drills are concerned, they must be closer to reality. In other words, it's useless if a guy comes in with a lunge punch and you learn 100 techniques for a lunge punch, or what they call a step-through punch. Very few people walk in like that except for a karate man.
"Come in like a boxer would come in," Bruce used to say. "Come in swinging like a street fighter would swing." And that's the way we practice in Jeet Kune Do. It might look formless, and when I first looked at his training methods, I said "What is this?" because I had already had some preconceived ideas of what a martial artist should look like, what type of form he should have. I thought his foot should be flat, his body should be this way, etcetera. And every style has this preconceived idea of what a good martial artist should look like and that has nothing to do with it, as Bruce always tried to point out. It took me six months to understand this principle.
Bruce dared to question things. He said to me, "Dan, if it doesn't work for you, throw it away. But you should drill on it first. Know the rules, follow the rules, dissolve the rules." He had three stages.
I have a letter from Bruce, dated December 28, 1965, when he was living in Seattle, Washington, in which he wrote, " ... the International Karate Championship uses my three stages of cultivation of gung-fu in its international karate emblem. The first stage is the primitive stage. It is a stage of original ignorance in which a person knows nothing about the art of combat. In a fight, he simply blocks and strikes instinctively without a concern as to what is right and wrong. Of course, he may not be so-called scientific, but, nevertheless, being himself, his attacks or defenses are fluid.
"The second stage-the stage of sophistication, or mechanical stage-begins when a person starts his training. He is taught the different ways of blocking, striking, kicking, standing, breathing, and thinking. Unquestionably, he has gained the scientific know- ledge of combat, but unfortunately his original self and sense of freedom are lost, and his action no longer flows by itself. His mind tends to freeze at different movements for calculations and analysis, and, even worse, he might be called 'intellectually bound' and maintain himself outside the actual reality.
"The third stage-the stage of alertness, or spontaneous stage occurs when, after years of serious and hard practice, he realizes that, after all, gung-fu is nothing special. And instead of trying to impose on his mind, he adjusts himself to his opponent like water pressing on an earthen wall. It flows through the slight crack. There is nothing to try to do but to be purposeless and formless, like water. All of his classical techniques and standard styles are minimized, if not wiped out, and nothingness prevails. He is no longer confined.
"Dan, forget about fancy horses, of moving the horse, fancy forms, pressure, locking, et cetera. All these will promote your mechanical aspects rather than help you. You will be bound by these unnatural rhythmic messes, and when you are in combat it is broken rhythm and timing you have to adjust to. The opponent is not going to do things rhythmically with you as you would do in practicing a kata alone or with a partner. ... "
Bruce gave me confidence. I was kind of shy, bashful, and I think he helped my personality in that respect, that he taught me to be confident and more outgoing. He asked me, "Why are you bashful? Have you ever thought of that, Dan?" And I said, "Well, I guess -I'm scared of people." He asked, "Why are you scared of people?", and I answered, "Well, I'm scared of making mistakes." He came back with, "What could happen to you if you did make a mistake in public?", and I then listed the things that could happen -- the worst things that could possibly happen. I guess he used the Socratic method because he would never answer for me. He would always let me answer.
This was Bruce's way of teaching, also. Instead of having you do 500 kicks, he would get you emotionally involved in 10 kicks. He would always ask questions during training to get you to seek the truth about yourself. Usually when a person is philosophical in his teaching, it doesn't apply to his training. But with Bruce, I found it was just the opposite. He used to tell me that any technique, no matter how worthy and desirable, becomes a disease when your mind becomes obsessed with it, when it is just one aspect of it. So basically, that was his philosophy: learn the principle, abide by the principle, and dissolve the principle. Obey the principle without being bound to it. And basically that's Jeet Kune Do.
Bruce was a beautiful person. He was ahead of his time in the martial arts, and sometimes people just didn't understand what he was trying to convey. I feel he was the Einstein or the Edison of the martial arts, and some people in the arts just weren't ready for him. I must agree with Leo Fong (a kung-fu karate instructor in Stockton, California), who said Bruce Lee was like the seagull in the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I truly feel Bruce was the Jonathan Livingston Seagull of martial arts.