Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Bruce Lee and the Early Martial Arts Culture of San Francisco

The Dao of Strategy sent me a link to this entry at Fightland Blog.  The original post contains a LOT of great old pictures and and overview of the Chinese martial arts culture in San Francisco at the time Bruce Lee arrived and began teaching.

An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Photos of Bruce Lee and the Early Martial Arts Culture of San Francisco Bay

Fightland Blog

Charles Russo is a San Francisco journalist and contributor to Fightland. His new book Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America chronicles the formative days of a young (pre-Hollywood) Bruce Lee as he navigates the heated martial arts proving ground of the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1960s. The historical photographs featured here (and in the book) reflect the robust fight culture that Bruce encountered, which ran the gamut from Chinatown Tong enforcers to Oakland street fighters. Regarded by the Chinatown masters as little more than "a dissident with bad manners," Bruce's time amid this culture would be both turbulent and formative, involving his legendary high noon showdown with Wong Jack Man as well as his earliest formal constructions of Jeet Kune Do.

In the post-World War II era, the San Francisco Bay Area became one of the great melting pots of martial arts culture in the west. In San Francisco's Chinatown this culture anchored around Lau Bun, the Choy Li Fut kung fu master and local tong enforcer who opened one of the very first Chinese martial arts schools in America. 

In the summer of 1959, a hotheaded 18-year-old Bruce Lee would have a little-known run-in with this group.

The altar within Sil Lum kung fu master TY Wong's school bore the inscription: "The proper use of the good long fist / Is to punish lawbreakers and to eliminate violence." TY belonged to the same tong as his senior colleague Lau Bun, and played a similar role within the community. When U.S. servicemen on shore leave took to Chinatown's Forbidden City nightclubs, it often fell to TY to curb the rowdier forms of behavior.

Although Bruce was born in San Francisco's Chinatown, he was often at odds with members of the neighborhood's martial arts culture. In fact, one longstanding Chinatown master dismissed him as little more than "a dissident with bad manners." Bruce instead found a more likeminded crowd across the Bay, in the city of Oakland.

A menacing street fighter in his youth, James Lee embodied all of the blue collar grit of his native Oakland. Beyond his physicality, James was also a brilliant innovator of the martial arts in America. He ran a modern school out of his garage, invented and built his own training equipment, and even started his own publishing company. (In fact, James Lee is the reason why the English vernacular uses "Kung Fu" instead of "Gung Fu.") James embodied the sort of martial arts future that a young Bruce Lee was envisioning. Despite their difference in age, they would develop a close fraternal bond that lasted the rest of their lives.

One of Bruce Lee's closest colleagues in Oakland was Wally Jay, the Hawaiian jujitsu master who had been teaching in the East Bay since the early 1950s. Wally was just one of several colleagues Bruce found in Oakland that had ties back the dynamic (and often-forgotten) melting pot martial arts culture of Hawaii during the mid-20th Century. Wally's teacher (left) was Seishiro Okazaki, who had emerged from a long line of samurai to be a pioneering and highly innovative figure within the early martial arts culture of the West.  

Kenpo practitioners Ed Parker and Ralph Castro were key collaborators that Bruce Lee discovered in Oakland, who also had ties back to the robust martial arts culture of Hawaii.

Ed Parker was a visionary for martial arts culture in America. Parker had studied kenpo in his native Hawaii before opening his first school in Pasadena around 1956, where he elicited considerable interest from the Hollywood crowd. Beginning in 1964, Parker's Long Beach International Karate Tournament would be a cornerstone of martial arts culture in America, bringing together a wide range of practitioners from around the world each year. The inaugural Long Beach event in '64 got Bruce Lee noticed by Hollywood, and resulted in him being cast as Kato on the Green Hornet shortly after.

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