Back in the 1960s, Bob Wall was a force to be reckoned with on the tournament kickboxing circuit. He won top honors at virtually every major karate event in the United States. In the 1970s, Bob Wall fought on an all-star team that included Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, Mike Stone and Skipper Mullins. During his spare time, Bob Wall co-starred in three Bruce Lee movies and did stunts in a bunch of others.
In the limelight for the past four decades, Bob Wall has been hounded by a number of stories — some true and some not. In this exclusive interview, the karateka and co-star of three Bruce Lee movies addresses the most persistent ones.
Black Belt: What was it about the Bruce Lee martial arts demonstration at the 1964 Internationals that set him apart from the others?
Bob Wall: Bruce was charismatic and dynamic. He did the blindfolded sparring, one-inch punch and two-finger push-ups. Nobody had seen that before.
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That tournament also introduced Chuck Norris to Bruce Lee, didn’t it?
Bob Wall: Chuck Norris saw Bruce Lee but did not meet him at the ’64 Internationals.
In your opinion, did Chuck Norris influence Bruce Lee’s kicks?
Bob Wall: There’s no question that Chuck influenced Bruce’s kicking. Chuck, Bruce and I worked out a lot together. Bruce shared his talents and picked up on anything he liked from anyone he worked out with if he respected them. He definitely liked and respected Chuck, and the feeling was mutual.
How did the martial arts community view Bruce Lee in the early 1960s?
Bob Wall: The martial arts community either loved or really disliked Bruce for his statements, which were considered brash for the time.
Bruce Lee’s demeanor seemed steeped in Taoism. Did his philosophical underpinnings affect your outlook on life?
Bob Wall: Bruce’s philosophical viewpoint was very interesting. I loved him for his talent, charm and his whole energetic, exciting personality.
Did the scene from the Bruce Lee martial arts film Enter the Dragon with the broken bottle go bad because Lee was a perfectionist or because Robert Clouse was a bad director?
Bob Wall: The broken-bottle scene was made dangerous because we used real bottles. Each time you broke them, they broke differently, and the edges were obviously very sharp. However, we did the scene several times perfectly, except that I had to fall into the glass each time. Then there was a mistiming on the seventh or so shot, and Bruce was cut. Bruce’s only instructions to me were to come at him as fast as I could and aim for his right pectoral [muscle]. He then kicked me with a right-leg-forward crescent kick, which hit me between my wrist and elbow. When the accident that cut Bruce’s hand occurred, the kick landed on my arm above the elbow, so the bottle didn’t move, and as Bruce spun around, he jammed his right hand into the bottle. If Clouse had given us [breakaway] bottles, there would have been no problem. But Bruce was into reality-based filmmaking — including the live snake he snatched, which bit him once during the several takes. Bruce had the talent, guts and speed, and he was fearless. That’s why [Bruce Lee movies] stand the test of time.
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Robert Clouse, director of the Bruce Lee movies Enter the Dragon and The Game of Death, has passed on. Do you have any regrets about your feud with him?
Bob Wall: Any so-called feud was Clouse’s doing, as he spread the rumor that Bruce wanted to kill me. Bruce said it didn’t come from him, as he knew it was a dangerous [scene] and we had done it perfectly six times. So we found out Clouse had started the rumor. After a week off, we did the scene in which Bruce side-kicks me, and he hit me exactly where he was supposed to — so much for the alleged rumor. Any problems were Clouse’s problems. He did not like or respect martial artists. That was his misfortune.
But Bruce Lee also announced that he wasn’t going to kill you because they needed you to finish the movie. So there had to be some substance behind the rumor.
Bob Wall: No substance. Bruce had to find a way to stop the [rumor], and he did it.
Read Part 2 of this interview with Bruce Lee movies co-star Bob Wall! >>>
About the Author:
Paul Bax is a freelance writer, jeet kune do historian and founder of The JKD Brotherhood.