Editor’s Note: Two legendary martial artists collaborating on a writing project is typically quite rare. But this is exactly what happened when Bruce Lee protégé Ted Wong and wing chun kung fu grandmaster William Cheung wrote the now-out-of-print book Wing Chun Kung Fu / Jeet Kune Do: A Comparison Vol. 1. In it, the two legends present their perspectives on the origins of their respective martial arts in an essay — Part 2 of which we’re proud to present in adapted form from the Black Belt archives.
The Origins of Jeet Kune Do
Although Wing Chun Kung Fu / Jeet Kune Do: A Comparison Vol. 1 deals solely with wing chun and jeet kune do, it is advisable to research the whole spectrum of Bruce Lee’s martial art in the context of his life in general — from his beginnings in wing chun to his modifications with Jun Fan kung fu (or, as he called it, “gung fu”) to his own discovery of jeet kune do.
Learn all about Chinese gung fu through Bruce Lee’s own words and digitally restored photos in his classic 1963 book Chinese Gung Fu — Revised and Updated!
In order to fully understand jeet kune do, you must understand Bruce Lee. Lee’s martial arts journey began in Hong Kong, where he learned wing chun as a tireless youngster, practicing the direct and economical close-range techniques of that style every chance he got.
He trained diligently with his sifu, Yip Man, and seniors William Cheung and Wong Shun Leung. However, his training was cut short when, at age 18, Bruce Lee’s parents sent him to America to claim his United States citizenship.
Wing Chun in Transition
After a brief stay in San Francisco, his birthplace, Bruce Lee moved to Seattle to live with a family friend. It was at this time he began to modify his classical wing chun method. Bruce Lee began to adjust the stances, angles and positions of his wing chun techniques, also adding longer-range kicking techniques from some of the northern kung fu styles. Among notable people who learned from Bruce Lee in this time period is Taky Kimura.
After his marriage to Linda Emery (Linda Lee Cadwell today), Bruce Lee moved to Oakland, Califomia, to live with James Yimm Lee and his family. James Yimm Lee was a very good friend, and they had daily contact with each other during his stay in Oakland. Bruce Lee continued to make minor changes to his modified wing chun style (which he called Jun Fan gung fu out of respect for traditional wing chun and his sifu, Yip Man, in Hong Kong).
The well-known fight with Wong Jak Man is considered the turning point that led Bruce Lee to the development of jeet kune do. Until the Wong Jak Man encounter, Bruce Lee had been content with improvising and expanding on his original wing chun.
But after the altercation, Bruce Lee judged that the modified system had limited his performance. He concluded that a strict adherence to wing chun was too confining for him because it had very few long-range kicks. He also found that he had become quite tired after the fight. He therefore began to add new dimensions to his art. He searched for the best within himself. He also studied other fighting arts. From that research, he absorbed what was useful and rejected what was useless. This became the basis of jeet kune do at a higher level.
Bruce Lee in Los Angeles
Bruce Lee eventually moved to Los Angeles to be closer to the entertainment industry. At first, he trained only a few students behind a pharmacy in Chinatown. Among them was Dan Inosanto, circa 1967. It was the third of the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institutes — the first two being in Seattle and Oakland, respectively.
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By the time Bruce Lee came to Los Angeles, he had decided to scrap his modified wing chun (Jun Fan gung fu) and search out the roots of combat — to find the universal principles and concepts fundamental to all styles and systems. It was at this time that Bruce Lee emphasized wing chun less and less because of its perceived limitations.
To be continued in “Ted Wong and William Cheung on Wing Chun History and Jeet Kune Do Origins (Part 3).”