James Bishop: When did you first meet Bruce Lee? Patrick Strong: It was late 1960 or the beginning of 1961, a friend of mine was training with Bruce, Doug Palmer. Doug lived down the street, he had told me about Bruce Lee, then one day somebody else mentioned him and I went to watch a workout. I was boxing at the time and went down to see what was going on.
What did you think of what you saw? I had never seen anything that fast before, hands that could move like that! So I immediately signed up.
What was your initial reaction to Bruce Lee the man? He was a young, good-looking guy. He was really handsome and had a very pretty girlfriend. I was boxing at the Cherry Street Gym, which had some professional fighters – Archie Moore used to come in there every once and a while, up from California, and hang around a little bit -and I thought I had seen some really fast guys, but when I saw Bruce I had never seen anything like that before. Blinding speed.
What was it like training with Bruce? I’ve trained in martial arts ever since then (and with a lot of different people) but what probably struck me most about Bruce Lee (other than his blinding speed and effectiveness) was that he could express himself with martial arts as in philosophy. His philosophy was an extension of his art. For example, he would teach the ton sao, which is the palm-up hand in Wing Chun. And in that hand is another principle, the immovable elbow principle. He would describe that elbow, that it would fit one fist’s length away from the body, and if that elbow were ever pushed in any further than that then your structure would be destroyed. It was the holding place – the place that you held – and under no circumstance would you let that be compromised. And then he would turn around and apply that to things in life: there is a point that you v/ill not go beyond, that you will not give beyond. For example, in business negotiations, there might be a point where you know you are going to hold firm, you’re not going to go beyond that point, and so you hold there; once you go beyond that point you lose what you set out to accomplish.
So he would do that all the time, describe his art in philosophical, meaningful terms.
Then, in that same hand (the palm-up hand) he would describe the arm as neither bent nor straight. To bend it would have been an extreme, as in too much yin. To keep it straight would have been too much yang. I was seventeen or eighteen years-old, and here is some guy describing an arm that is neither bent nor straight: it is both bent and straight. If it’s straight the structure is destroyed. If it’s too bent the structure is destroyed. At the time I didn’t know what he was talking about.
It was the first time I had heard anybody talk like that. When I went off to college, the first courses I signed up for were philosophy, then the stuff started making a lot of sense.
But I spent a great deal of time listening to Bruce. I listened and hung on every single word he said, and some of those terms have got lost over the years. A few years ago I was up in Seattle visiting with (fellow Bruce Lee student) Taky Kimura. I started talking about non-intention and Taky didn’t know what I was talking about. I said, Don’t you remember how Bruce was talking about how you arrive at non-intention by being like a set of keys that lie on the top of a table? The table moves, the keys fall. They don’t intend to fall – they just fall. And he said, Ah! I forgot! So what has happened over the years is that everything has gone toward non-telegraph. But Bruce’s key was non-intention. Non- telegraph and non-intention are not the same things.
Tell me more about the difference between non-telegraph and non-intention.
Non-telegraph is to not send a message to the opponent that you are about to move and/or strike. You don’t dip the shoulder, you don’t make an expression, you don’t pull the hand back, you don’t set up your pace – your set pace – as though you are about to hit. You don’t send a telegram that you’re about to strike. Non-intention, on the other hand, is that you strike without the intention to strike. You eliminate the intention.
If Bruce were to telegraph his strike to you, he could still hit you with ease before you could react simply because his physical initiation was executed with non-intention. Non-intention is the ‘thing’, deeper than non-telegraph. It would be impossible to be as fast as Bruce without non-intention.
To know non-intention is to do more than just execute it; it is also to be able to see the intention in your opponent. His intention will show before his telegraph. If you read his intention, he’s yours. If you read his telegraph, he may still hit you if his intention is concealed within the movement of his telegraph, provided he is fast.
So when they made Enter the Dragon the editor noticed (particularly in the scene with Bruce and Bob Wall where they would touch in cross-hands position and Bruce would move in with a pak sao and hit Bob Wall), that no matter how much he slowed that film down there was absolutely no preparation from Bruce at all. In other words, there was no telegraphing. The way that he achieved zero telegraphing was through zero intention, non-intention. There was no intention to strike. So the editor said, Well, there wasn’t a place where he began to make his movement. He was here one second and the next second he v/as there. There wasn’t anything that precipitated that movement at all. It just happened.
To strike as a result of reading telegraph is slow compared to striking as a result of reading intention. The mere fact that Bruce could strike with non-intention by reading the intention sounds amazing, but really very simple. Also, keep in mind that a telegraphic move may be nothing more than a fake by your opponent, but he will not be able to fake his intention.
That reminds me of a quotation I once read attributed to Bruce. Someone asked him if he were forced to kill someone in self-defence, how would he justify his actions to a court. He said that he would say that he didn’t do it, that IT did it.
I think you probably read an interview on me, because I said that. That’s a story that he told me.
It’s an interesting concept, because when Bruce was doing Fists of Fury The Big Boss there is a point where he is fighting the fellow in the ice factory. He hits the man in the abdomen and then he grabs his fist and looks at it like it was this thing that was unleashed, like it did it by itself. The weapon used itself. It just happened. And so he grabs his fist and looks at it almost in a horror as to what it just did. That’s the idea of non-intention exactly.
When you’re driving down the street and a child runs in front of your car – your foot just goes to the brake. You don’t intend to put your foot on the brake, you don’t prepare to put your foot on the brake, it just happens – BANG. No intention.
And that is what he meant by that thing, that if the judge asked him if he would plead guilty or not guilty, he would of course plead not guilty because he did not kill the man – ‘it’ killed him. It’s just like, when you hit the brakes were you guilty of hitting the brakes to stop from hitting the child? No, you had no intention; there was no premeditation. It wasn’t you that did it. ‘It’ did it. ‘It’ being the ultimate innocence.
So it happens independent of conscious thought and intention.
Yeah, it just happens. Bruce Lee’s best analogy for that was the keys that sit on the edge of the table. When the table moves the keys fall.
They don’t think about falling, they don’t prepare to fall, they just fall. Nov/ in martial arts that is very meaningful.
I recognize part of what you are talking about as the scientific principle of kinesthetic imprinting.
When you move, your nerves direct your muscles to contract, pulling on bones and tendons, which causes joints to move. Though in most instances this is a result of a conscious impulse sent from your brain, the way in which you move is directed by nerve impulses that travel from the peripheral nerves to the spine and then back to the muscles, independent of conscious control. This information has been learned by the muscles and by the nervous system.
When you touch something hot and your hand jerks back, your body has acted independent of conscious control, with nerve signals being sent to your spine and action taken immediately, based on muscle memory. This is necessary because in such an instance there is not time for the brain to receive the sensory information, analyze it, and decide on a course of action. So too is there not enough time in a fight to think about what you will do.
When you practice these techniques your muscles and nervous system are ‘learning’ these movements in a process known as kinesthetic imprinting.
The techniques are programmed into your nervous system and muscles, which will execute the techniques independent of the brain when your body recognizes the necessity.
When your skill level has risen, you perform without thought. Conscious attention to your actions will diminish. Your movements will become more harmonious and automatic, and your mind is freed to become more aware of your surroundings. You will develop an animal-like grace and quickness.
Developing grace and precision in your movements will give you increased control and make better use of energy. This efficiency ensures that you minimize wasted effort and that your muscles do not work against each other. It will also circumvent the problem of the sympathetic nervous system’s ‘fight or flight’ response causes your nervous system to revert to an instinctive reaction which, if you have reached that level
of kinesthetic imprinting, would be your techniques.
Well said. I recently shot three instructional videos, all of which deal heavily with this very issue.
Once you understand a few principles you can look to Bruce’s notes in the Tao olJeet Kune Do. It is fraught with information about this matter.
The problem is that Bruce was simply taking notes rather than writing a book. He wasn’t writing a thesis or a book that would have explained the concepts in far greater method and detail. Beware, the Tao ofJeet Kune Do is incredibly incomplete.
However, there is value in the Tao olJeel Kune Do for those who understand the roots of Bruce’s methodology. Understanding those roots is the key to understanding Bruce, if you are so inclined. Where do you get that understanding? You get it through research and your own self- examination.
Bruce used this analogy to explain it: Pretend that a young man wants to learn to fight, and I let him fight one of my students, instructing him to fight the best way that he can and with everything he’s got. At this point, he knows very little about fighting. When he fights, he just fights from his instincts; punching, kicking, elbowing, whatever. He is ‘innocent’. Bruce used this word, ‘innocent’. It is a key word. Now I teach him a new way to stand, move, punch, kick. He can hardly walk let alone fight. And when I tell him to fight he is far worse off than before. Nothing seems to work. Everything is mechanical. He is trying to use the way. He is limited. And yet. He continues to train until, one day, everything becomes natural once again. Only, the way he stands, walks, punches, kicks, and uses his elbows are very much different. His movement is more efficient. He is faster and more powerful. He is no longer ‘stuck’ in his movement.
Once again, he is ‘innocent’. To be ‘innocent’ is to use no way as the way, to have no limitation. In other words, you are no longer constipated and restricted by your method. You are no longer limited by those imposed limitations. Instead, you are instinctive. You are self-expressive. Your body of martial knowledge is no longer in your head, it’s in your nervous system and muscles.
Bruce advocated ‘instinctive economy’. This means he developed and used movements that are instinctive.
Along with fistic law, this is why he had a single answer for many questions (I.e., right lead from centre cone positions, working with left hand lin sil dar). The idea here is to minimize your ‘choice reactions’. In fact, it is your job to minimize your choice reaction while giving your opponent a variety of choice reactions.
Anyway, the instinctive reaction is what you do in an emergency, or when startled. For instance when your hands fly up to protect you instead of trying to high block, inside block, outside block, or low block.
The instinctive reaction is simple with minimal antagonistic tension (less braking) which, in itself, slows down the movement. The muscles are less apt to be effected by adrenal stress syndrome that can freeze movement. In fact, they will most likely be even quicker.
By training your instinctive reaction movement you are training your nervous system. This is ‘key’. You train the nervous system with thousands and thousands of correct movements. The movements are as close to instinctive reaction as possible. This was one of Bruce’s greatest secrets.
To begin the movement simply and on the eccentric action, takes away the decision or ‘intention’ to move.
While training muscles are important for conditioning and being able to perform, it is equally important to train your nervous system. This involves attention to minute details, that is, if you really want to improve it. By studying your instinctive movement and coming to see how close it is to your Jeet Kune Do movement, you will come to a closer understanding. Review your Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and you discover many, many things. This is what Bruce was looking for when he was making his notes.
In the film, Enter the Dragon, Bruce slaps the young student on the forehead and says, What was that, a demonstration? A second slap and he says, Don’t think. Feeeeeeel.
This scene, as well as other scenes in Bruce’s films, give many keys to his personal art. He said, ‘feel’.
This is the way that Bruce trained himself. He paid attention to his feelings. He looked inside of his structure. He felt the small things. The tiniest of things. Not only in his punch, but all of his structure, tools, and movement. Why do you think that Yip Man made him do the sil lum tao so painfully slow? So that he could properly train his nervous system and properly construct the proper neuro-pathways, and ‘settling’ of his structure. This is what is meant by ‘shedding away and getting rid of the non-essentials.’ You are ridding yourself of any excess muscle involvement or improper neuro-responses, not just simplifying technique by streamlining the movement.
Unfortunately, too many people believe that ‘no way’ means the absence of correct principles and mechanics, as though reacting and initiating were nothing more than a range ot the momentary expediency. Nothing could be less true. This is simply not what Bruce meant at all.
This is what happens to me every time I give a seminar: I’ll pick some fellows out of the audience that I think are the fastest ones, the smallest, lightest black belts. I’ll have them come up and my guarantee to them is that they will be faster by the end of the seminar. They will hit stronger and move quicker. That’s my guarantee. So what I’ll do is I’ll hold my hands out about six inches in front of my face, six to seven inches apart, and I’ll tell them to try to try to strike between the hands without letting me catch their hands. If I can clap my hands together and catch their hand then they are too slow. Invariably, I’ll catch the hand more times than I won’t. I’ll probably catch it eight out of ten times; he might slip one or two in, depending on how fast he is. Or he may slip none in. But when I do it to him, even when I don’t do it fast, he doesn’t have a chance. There is no chance in the world that he can catch that and the reason for that is that, if I don’t use intention, he can’t see the movement coming. There is no telegraph – there is nothing to see the movement coming. So by the time that I move it will take his brain to see my movement, process it in the brain, and send a message back to his muscles to react. In that time I can hit him one or more times. So I’ll usually do that with someone four or five times so that they can get the rhythm and figure out how it works and get reaily polished at clapping that hand. Then I’ll say. Okay, one more time. But this time I want you to be really fast, I don’t want you to let me get in. Then I’ll punch three times and they won’t touch any one ot the three punches, it’s not because I am that fast; it’s because I eliminate the intention.
Now when you take a set of keys and the keys drop, the key to that is gravity. The intention is in the gravity. So when you (as a martial artist) make your move, your movement is, as Bruce called it, the hammer principle, where the hand is kind of dropping. But the hand moves first and drops and the body drops behind it. It’s the dropping motion that is more of an eccentric action than a concentric action. It’s more of a giving away of the muscles that are in the stretch phase of a muscle action than of the contraction phase. For me to contract my muscles I have to intend to contract them. To drop I don’t have to. Gravity then becomes the servomechanism that takes over that intention. By the time my intention is there I am halfway to the target. If he can see my intention then he can react. So if the opponent can’t read the intention he cannot react fast enough – it has hit him before he can get the message to the brain and react. He can’t react that fast enough.
So you think that non-intention was one of Bruce’s best secrets to speed? It was the secret to his speed. At the time I didn’t know exactly where it came from, I learned it years and years later.
Bruce used analogies to explain his non-intention. One was in describing bamboo. What makes the bamboo dangerous said Bruce, is that if you bend and suddenly release it, it will snap back. The bamboo is ‘innocent’. It doesn’t have to think or decided to strike.
When he studied Wing Chun, Bruce Lee learned some principles which dictated his martial art and the rest of his life. He adhered to many of those principles and he expounded off of them, built off of them, and he modified things around them, yet those same principles he held dear.
For example, in chi sao: if you and I are doing chi sao (that’s the sticking hands technique) and my hands touch your hands, what happens is that my energy goes toward you and your energy goes toward me. If I suddenly move one of my hands, if I suddenly get it out of the way, you don’t intend to strike me – what happens is your hand just comes in and hits me. It’s because when my hand is against your hand there is a pressure built up, and when I release my hand your pressure just shoots in like a spring. It would be the same thing as if you took a spring and you compressed it in your hand and release the spring. What is it going to do? It’s going to pop open; it’s a spring effect. It’s not going to get ready to pop open, it’s not going to get set to pop open, it’s just going to pop open. In chi sao. When I am touching your hand and putting pressure on you and you suddenly move your hand and make it weak or anything, my pressure will go straight in like water rushing through a dam. There’s no intention to that. So with chi sao that idea of the spring effect was already built in. What Bruce did
is to take that same idea and apply it to off-fighting, meaning that you are no longer in contact or touching. So what happens now is that instead of the spring effect being the servomechanism it now becomes gravity. Simply by dropping will give you the same effect as though the spring shot forward. Do you see the connection?
Yes, I can.
One thing developed out of the other. In the origin, you have the chi sao and the idea of chi sao is to fill the gap. What happens is if you and I are doing chi sao and I get weak off of my right hand, your left hand will come crashing through. You don’t think about hitting, you don’t see that I moved my hand, you just feel it. By the time you feel it it’s too late because it is already gone. It was a spring effect.
Now that spring effect comes from the structure of the hips, and that structure is learned in the sil lum tao. Wing Chun’s very first form. It sets up a bow action of the hips. The way that the tools work in that form is by setting up the pressure. So once the pressure is released, it just goes.
So what happens then, going back to the chi sao, the first thing that’s going to go is my hand. This was Bruce’s big secret, to move the hand before the body, which is just the opposite of Karate.
So, if I have the spring effect, and we are both pushing against each other, if you take your hand away real fast then my hand just shoots in – it doesn’t shoot in before my body, my body didn’t have the time to shoot in. There are big, big muscles groups in the body that could never react that fast. What happens when my hand shoots in is that my center of gravity will change and my body will follow my hand.
Bruce took the off-fighting and took the very same principle (and the same principles found in fencing and other directional arts). By dropping that hand it lowers the centre of gravity so that the hand is in the dropping phase and then by the time that hand goes and the body catches up to it and when the hand hits and the arm is extended it is backed by the body and the new principle now becomes the pole principle. It’s the body driving the punch through. That gives the punch deeper penetration, rather than hitting like, for instance, a Karate blow, which hits more on the surface. A pole effect punch goes very deep into the body. If Bruce hit you in the body you felt it everywhere, as in the one-inch punch.
So that’s the secret to his one-inch punch. It’s the same thing. The one-inch punch is the adduction of the wrist, but that’s a falling motion.
There are several ways of making your stance when you do that but it is the dropping -you drop into it with the adduction of the wrist. What’s happening in that wrist when that wrist cocks it hits cocked the same way. That’s setting that pole effect into the body and the penetration is deep.
So they are working in perfect tandem to create that force necessary in that small space of movement.
Right. Now in Karate you will move the hips first and then the arm. Around the torso and hips are the largest muscle groups in the body, a lot of muscle fibres. Those fibres have to contract. The hand and the arm have less muscle fibres so they can contract quicker.
So in Karate if I move my hand first and then my waist the timing is going to be off because my hand is going to get there before the larger muscle groups of the waist contract. That’s because I am in rotation. I am rotating into the punch. But if I use Bruce Lee’s method, which is the Wing Chun punch (which is more directional), what is happening now is that I can move the hand first because the body is going to go straight forward instead of so much of a rotation. I will get a pole effect that is going to drive that punch into the person. And a lot of people are confused in thinking that that is a push. It’s not a push, but it has some of the principles of a push. Mainly that when it hits you, it will blow you back six or seven feet.
From what you’re saying, it reminds me of an ocean wave. You have a smaller preliminary wave, and then the force of the greater wave coming in behind it adds a great deal more power to it.
You’re exactly right. Actually, there are several principles involved in that ‘ocean wave’. When the wave comes over and it builds its mass and it crashes over, that’s the falling step. The idea is already in Wing Chun and the idea is already in Karate, but it was really well put forth in boxing. Jack Dempsey wrote about the falling step. So that would be like the wave that crashes over for your power.
But there is another power in a wave, and that’s where the wave recedes – it recedes to build its mass to get that thing that pumps over. That ‘receding’ motion is the hip movement off the directional power. So you can hit someone with the falling step and if you time your strike at the time your foot hits the ground that’s the falling step. But if you drive with the hip, the Wing Chun hip, as you’re stepping in to it you’re driving with that rear hip, that becomes the other wave effect. There are two different effects.
In short, you start to see that there was a tremendous amount of detail and method to Bruce’s fighting method. It’s not just kickboxing. In explaining all of this, I am hoping to provide some idea as to the origins of Bruce’s knowledge and how he adapted or modified it to his own method. His ability to assimilate and modify knowledge was his genius.
Having studied Karate, I know what you’re talking about, the way they generate the power from the hips first. And from a standpoint of physics,
I can certainly see how Bruce’s method would increase power.
The difference is that if I take a Karate punch and I have you stand and brace your stomach really good. Now that’s going to be a pretty solid punch in the stomach, but you can tighten up and take that punch. What will happen is that it will send you back maybe six inches to a foot, but probably not much more than that. If I hit you with a Wing Chun punch, if it is done correctly with a full effect, I can hit with a fraction of the power that I hit with the Karate punch and knock you back six to eight feet and you’ll feel the impact go inside and spread through your organs. It will go up into your chest and around your heart, all the way to your back and up your neck. The reason for this is that it has really deep penetration because of the pole effect.
You know how the knights jostled? How they would get on their steeds with their armour and one gets down to one end of the path and the other gets down to the other and they charge each other with those jostling spears. What they do is they take that spear and they tuck it down tight underneath their armpit and they brace it in. They don’t punch with that thing; they brace it into the body. Then they direct it dead-centre into their target, where the blow doesn’t glance off. And the power that dismounts the other rider is the power of the horse driving the pole.
The power comes from the horse, not from the man thrusting the pole.
Well, that’s the same thing in the pole effect. The power comes from the body. That arm, when it hits, is seized down and locked; the shoulder girdle is locked into place. If that shoulder girdle is separated or up you will lose the power. In the sil lum tao it teaches how to lock that shoulder girdle down. That’s how you develop that. That’s how Bruce Lee could hit so hard with so little effort.