Daniel K. Lee Interview
* This interview is updated by Mr
Daniel Lee on May 27, 2000
PB- I understand that you were born in Shanghai, China, did you study any martial arts prior to moving to America?
DL- When I was eleven years old, I studied Qigong (Chi Kung) and Shaolin Kung Fu in the nearby park. The next year I was harassed and beaten by a 16 year old Russian kid who lived in my neighborhood. I was angry at myself for not being able to protect myself. To seek revenge, I enrolled in a boxing class the next day at the nearby YMCA. I was so motivated that I trained diligently three times a week. Six months later, I looked for the same kid that had hurt me and challenged him to a fight. I cannot say that I won the fight convincingly, but I was fearless and I bloodied his nose. From that day on, he stayed away from me. However, my interest in boxing continued on.
PB- I believe that you were the welterweight champion of China?
DL- In 1984, the Seventh National Athletic Meet was held in Shanghai. I was only eighteen years old but I had boxed for six years. Through competition, I was selected to become a member of the boxing team representing Shanghai in the welterweight division. I competed against seven opponents who came from different parts of China and the Philippines. I was happy that I won the championship in my weight division.
PB- Do you feel that growing up in such a cosmopolitan city made it easier for you to train in Western boxing?
DL- Definitely, because when I lived in Shanghai I had the opportunity to train under a well-known coach from Germany who taught me the fundamentals of boxing. With six years of good coaching and diligent practice, I competed often against boxers from European countries.
PB- Could you recap, for those that don't know the story, on when and how you first met Bruce Lee and what was your first impression of him?
DL- I saw Bruce for the first time in 1964 at the Long Beach Karate tournament which was organized by Mr. Ed Parker, the Karate master. Bruce demonstrated his Kung Fu with dazzling speed and power and I was really impressed. Bruce called his Chinese Kung Fu system, "Jeet Kune Do - The Way of the Intercepting Fist." Because I was Chinese, I developed a great desire to learn his Chinese Kung Fu. I remember wishing I could study with him. Unfortunately, Bruce was living in Seattle, Washington, at that time.
PB- How did you get to study with him eventually?
DL- It wasn't until 1967 that I heard that Bruce had moved to Los Angeles and was ready to open a Jeet Kune Do school. I was overjoyed with the news. By that time, I had earn a Black Belt in Kempo Karate and a Brown Belt in Judo. I had also studied Taijiquan for a year from a master from China. Bruce was very selective in picking his students. He preferred students who had some types of martial art training because they would appreciate more fully what he had to offer. I was accepted by him after a lengthy interview. He was impressed with my sincere and humble attitude and my willingness to train hard. Bruce was also interested in an applicant's attitude and behavior. We were told that a one-year probation period was imposed upon us and if anyone should misuse the art or dishonor the school, he would be automatically expelled from the school. Bruce was also very meticulous in his record keeping. I was happy to learn later that I had the best attendance record and I was the first student officially accepted into his school and was given the permanent membership number 001.
PB- After Bruce's passing, did you continued your JKD training?
DL- Yes, I continued my training at the school but the emphasis became the training of the Phillipino Escrima and was held at a different location. So I stopped going there and continued my own JKD training. In 1974, I started a small group in my backyard working strictly on Bruce's JKD. I was reminded of a Chinese maxim for the student尊師重道 " Tsun Shr Chung Dao- To main loyal to one's teacher and faithfully uphold his teaching (Dao)"
PB- What were the reasons for studying the Taijiquan over the years?
DL- I have studied and practiced Taijiquan for almost 34 years and I love the art because it is rooted in the Chinese Taoist philosophy, which emphasizes the importance of living a balance and peaceful life. The exercise has improved my energy, my coordination and concentration. I have also learned the skill of yielding and the ability to redirect an oncoming force. As interest grew, I started to conduct Taijiquan classes in my area, sharing my knowledge with the public. By the way, I have also studied the theory and applications of Wing Chun which is the Chinese martial art Bruce studied and mastered before he created his JKD.
PB- Did you see any similarity between Taijiquan and JKD?
DL- Definitely. The early Taiji training emphasizes the relaxation of the body and mind and the maintaining of good posture and balance. Subsequent Taiji training develops one's skill in yielding and the ability to redirecting a hostile force back to its source. Reading the historical books, I discovered that many Taiji masters in the old days were proficient fighters because they were able to integrate both "yielding energy" (Yin) with the "forceful energy" (Yang) in their fighting. If you look at Bruce's JKD emblem, you'll see it is the same as the Taiji symbol. However, he added two arrows around the circle to further emphasize the changing nature of Yin and Yang energies that can be transformed quickly from one to the other. I firmly believe that Bruce wanted his followers to incorporated these two energies into their JKD fighting art.
Following this belief, my JKD training involves the development of hard punching and kicking of the aggressive energy (Yang), as well as the cultivation of the yielding and pliable action of the defensive energy (Yin). Then integrating the two energies in actual sparring. In the Taiji classics, this fighting strategy is called, 陰陽相濟 "Yin Yang Xiang Ji" - "To allow Yin Yang energies to assist each other". In the Wing Chun classics, it is referred to the application of 陰陽手 "Yin Yang Sau - Yin and Yang hand techniques" and 連消帶打 "LienXiao Dai" - "Combining Neutrization and Attack In A single Move". Bruce often admonished us to develop this Yin energy in our JKD. He would say, "Be like water, which is soft and pliable, yet so powerful."
PB- It appears that Taiji philosohy has a great impact in your JKD training.
DL- The Yin/Yang or the Taiji philosophy is rooted in the Chinese culture and its principle has been applied to the Chinese art, medicine, cooking, fortune telling geomency and other areas. I am happy that Bruce adopted the Taiji symbol as our JKD emblem. Taiji philosophy has not only influenced my JKD training, it harmonious life of joy and contentment.
PB- So you would probably say that the biggest change to your JKD would be the inclusion to Taiji philosophy and technique.
DL- No, I have not added the Taiji philosophy and technique into JKD. I merely followed Bruce's training agenda and in the direction he set for us. You may have seen the three plaques created by Bruce on the wall of our Los Angeles school. The first plaque shows a gap between the Yin and Yang symbols which indicates that a person would only trains the aggressive hard hitting and kicking of the attacking moves, or he would only train the pliable and yielding energy of the defensive moves. Bruce called this stage of training: "PARTIALITY - THE RUNNING TO EXTREME". The second plaque shows the next stage of training by using both Yin and Yang energies and interchange them in combat. Bruce called this stage of training: "FLUIDITY - THE TWO HALVES OF ONE WHOLE". This is the stage that I have been training in for the last 20 years. There have been times I felt that I have touched the fringe of the third stage which is: "EMPTINESS - THE FORMLESS FORM". In this stage, the integration and interchange of Yin and Yang energies are completed without one's conscious effort. I am far from reaching that stage. I am profoundly grateful to Bruce for his wisdom of charting the course. I think Bruce would be pleased with my progress.
PB- Do you ever have the chance to train with other Nucleus members?
DL- From time to time we visited each others' classes and trained together. We exchanged memories of what Bruce had taught us, and we also shared our own experiences and insights. I also shared with my fellow Nucleus members my idea of how I combining the Yin and Yang energy in the JKD techniques.
PB- What would you say is the most important thing you learned personally from Bruce?
DL- Bruce convinced me that my progress in martial arts depends totally on my dedication in training. He urged me to think for myself, do my own research, and continually improve the JKD fighting art.
PB- What advice do you have for martial artists with no previous experience who are just starting out in JKD?
DL-Let me offer the following suggestions:
1) Start studying with a qualified JKD instructor who has had actual training in the JKD curriculum and is affiliated with the JFJKD organization. Be wary of instructors who mix JKD training with many other unrelated martial arts and advocate that cross training is better.
2) Form a small club and work out together using "The Tao of JKD" as your guide.
3) If possible, attend the annual JFJKD seminar and learn from the JFJKD nucleus members.
4) Sponsor one of the nucleus members of your choice to conduct a seminar in your area. (I have been invited in the past to conduct seminars in England, Spain and many cities in the U.S. If you wish you may invite me to visit your group).
5) If you visit the U.S., contact the JFJKD organization about the JKD classes held by the JFJKD instructors. If you are in the Los Angeles area, please contact me and pay a visit to my class
PB- What would you like to see for the future of JFJKD?
DL- I am very happy with the progress made in the last four years. Through our magazine and the annual seminars, Bruce Lee's original Jeet Kune Do is again being studied and practiced around the world. I am happy that I have been and will continue to be a contributing member of the JFJKD organization. I am determined to vigorously preserve and promote Bruce's JFJKD and his legacy. I would like to see more articles being written about Bruce as an independent thinker, a philosopher, an inspiring teacher, a loving father and husband and a true friend, so that more people in the world will get to know him, and make him as their role model.