Author(s): Bruce Lee
Edited by: John Little
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (1997)
In this issue, I have the pleasure of reviewing a book that I believe everyone in Wing Chun will find very enlightening. Bruce Lee: The Tao of Gung Fu, edited by Bruce Lee historian John Little, is a book that Lee wrote on Wing Chun in 1963.
The book provides a lot of insight into Lee’s understanding of Wing Chun and his respect for its methods. Lee covers centreline theory, immovable elbow, footwork and a chapter called “Introducing the Wing Chun Straight Punch”. There are recollections of lessons taught to Lee by Ip Man and his understanding of the application of these methods in self-defence—the Wing Chun practitioner will find plenty to feast on in this book!
There has been much speculation regarding Bruce Lee’s depth of understanding of Wing Chun, as well as his reason for “abandoning” Wing Chun, or for that matter if he “abandoned” the system at all, or simply decided to keep it as his own rather than share it with his students. I believe this book will reveal the answers to a lot of these questions.
The most telling and interesting gem I dug out of this treasure chest is in Lee’s writings on Chi Sau. I believe this section contains the answer as to the so-called abandonment of Wing Chun by Lee.
Bruce Lee’s martial arts epic Enter the Dragon contains a scene at the beginning of the movie where Lee is walking with his teacher. The teacher is questioning Lee about his thoughts on the martial arts. He asks, “What is the highest form of technique”? Bruce Lee answers, “To have no technique.” The teacher asks him to explain. Bruce explains, “A fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I don’t hit—it hits all by itself!”
On pages 72 and 73, under the subheading “Close-Range Gung Fu: The Sticking Hands Method of Wing Chun” Lee writes: “Chi Sau is a flowing energy exercise in which we attach our hands to the opponent’s hands and forget ourselves by following the movements of his hands, leaving our mind free to make its own counter-movement without deliberation. When the opponent expands, we contract, when he contracts, we expand; to fit our movements harmoniously into his attack without anticipating or rushing the action, but simply continuing the flow.”
At the end of his life, after the founding of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee was using the exact same wording he used to describe Wing Chun’s Chi Sau, in order to express his idea of the highest form of technique. I believe this demonstrates just how close the Little Dragon remained to his foundation in Wing Chun, in his personal expression of the martial arts.
I highly recommend this book to the Wing Chun enthusiast who really wants to know more about Bruce Lee’s understanding of Wing Chun and its influence on Lee’s development of Jeet Kune Do.