Leo Fong Q&A
The following was taken place in the Temple Discussion on 02/08/01 between regular vistitors of this site (Jt, Drunken Master, Jimmy, Jen, John Overall, Soc, Steve Kerridge, Nick Clarke, Doug, Kevin, David Williams, Tom Keplar, Hsu Chien, Toayb Hamidi, Blairo and Ed) and Leo Fong.
Temple of the Unknown: Hello, and Welcome to Mr. Leo Fong. Thank you for being willing to join us here in the Temple of Discussion. I know that this will be to our benefit and growth in knowledge. Thanks also to George Tan for bringing you here. I hope this is a pleasant visit for your and that this won't be your last. - Jt Cobra, Temple Keeper
Temple of the Unknown: What book or documentary most accurately represents the Bruce you knew? And what is your favorite memory of Bruce?
Leo Fong: As far as books are concerned, the first Tao of JKD. It's the closest to what he was sharing with us at the club. I remember what he said to me over the years was in that book. My favorite film was Way of the Dragon. Bruce as a human being was obsessed with the martial arts, and he couldn't sit still. I think that film shows the real Bruce. It's also his vision-he wrote, starred and directed it. My fondest memory of Bruce was that we would go to various schools around Oakland. We went to Al Tracy's school, and Al didn't know who he was. Bruce made a comment while watching the class about them doing something wrong, so somebody said for Bruce to show them. Bruce was still wearing his shoes, and everybody was else was in bare feet. So Bruce stomps across and place and goes up to the guy, and told the guy to try the move. First the guy threw the thing and Bruce double palmed him into the wall. Then Bruce told the guy to try it again,this time Bruce had his eyes closed. And he slammed him again. Al was turning all kinds of colors. Finally I introduced Bruce, and we all became friends. In fact, Bruce would go by almost every week and mess around with Al's students. I don't have a particular fond memory.There are too many. This is just one of them.
Temple of the Unknown: Had Bruce Lee lived and achieved his definite chief aim, do you think he would have ultimately 'retired' from the film business and used his celebrity to go on to become the cultural icon and teacher he is presented as today and, if so, what do you feel he would have made of the world around us in the 21st century? Building on this, do you think he would have reached the same heights he has in death or merely command the kind of status that film and sports stars of his era enjoy today (i.e. reasonably low-key, polite, retrospective respect).
Leo Fong: Bruce was always innovating, so who knows what JKD would have been like today? As to Bruce himself, I think he would have continued to improve himself physically. At 60 he would have been in peak condition, probably ripped, and his knowledge of philosophy, martial ats and motivation, which is how to develop oneself, as well as selling oneself to the public. In today's world, he would still be ahead of the pack, because he was innovative, and would take advantage of the technology. The computer would probably have been his chief vehicle of communication.
Temple of the Unknown: Across the globe, I think that although Bruce Lee is well-known, he may not actually be known-well. It's all too easy to either superficially perceive him as just a screen icon/idol or iconoclastically dismiss him as a flawed over-rated mortal who never actually won a "karate" tournament. Both these extreme views are hyped in the media. I think both these ill-informed and narrow minded viewpoints do Bruce Lee an injustice.
Q1) Since Leo knew Bruce personally and has stated that Bruce was the 3rd major positive influence in his life, I was wondering if Leo would share his personal experience and views on why and how Bruce was able to make such an impact on his life.
Q2) In the martial art world Bruce favoured functional totality as opposed to stylized partiality and fragmentation. I was wondering what Leo's viewpoints are regarding attachment to and the limitations of orthodox styles and schools in martial art and religion.
Leo Fong: Q1) Lee made me aware of the need to look into myself for direction, rather than depend on the outside. Some of the things that Lee talked about I felt was closely related to my own faith journey in studying the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. And then my father was closely related to that. He was philosophical. When our business burned down, somebody asked him what he was going to do now. He said when somebody knocks you down you get up.
Q2) People want a handle to hold onto. They want props. I think we all need props. A good example is when he had the little school in Oakland, over on Broadway, there was only 8 or 9 of us there. I remember one guy named Joe Davis, who was a Kajukempo practitioner said he was going to quit. I asked why, and he said that he wasn't having fun, and that at least in Kajukempo he learned a new trick each class.And here he would only hear Bruce talk. Bruce would demonstrate something like closing the gap, and then talk and lecture about it for half an hour. He didn't line us up and go 1-2-3 and drill us over and over like traditional schools. It was very hang loose, very informal.That's how Bruce trated martial arts. He said it was a style with no style, and it has no boundaries. Freedom.
Temple of the Unknown: From your martial arts and religious experience, do you find that people are afraid of this message?
Leo Fong: They're afraid because they don't want to take responsibility for developing themselves. That's why Bruce said that in order for you to grow you have to find the caue of your own ignorance. In the church they put the blame on the minister, when in essence, if the church is not growing, it's not the ministers fault. You have to take responsibility for your own life. I think he was influenced by the Fritz Perle books I gave him. I had 6 Karate schools with Ron Marchini. People were always looking for the formula, something they can hold onto. So you give them forms, basic movement. But if you told them that today you're going to show them how to not get hit, and the art of not getting hit is to practice the art of detachment. You don't want to get tangled in forms, you've got to move in different directions, etc. Do you tink you're going to keep those guys? No, They want you to block and hit. That's something tangible.
Temple of the Unknown: When was the last time you saw Bruce and how much had he changed (if at all) from when you first met.
Leo Fong: The last time I saw Bruce was in '71 or '72, right when he was going to make "Big Boss". After that Jimmy would give me information. I have the last letter he sent me which said "things are going my way. When it rains it pours". And no, he hadn't changed much. He was still obsessed with the martial arts.
Temple of the Unknown: Was there a reason why you did not join the Nucleus and the BLEF?
Leo Fong: I always felt I was outsider. I felt like I would be an intruder to what they were forming, their little circle there. I was not invited in other words.
Temple of the Unknown: Could you please tell me a bit about your sparring sessions with Bruce Lee and how much importance did Bruce emphasize about footwork and was this his big secret in his superior speed of techniques and deceptiveness?
Leo Fong: I had one brief sparring session with Bruce out in his backyard. And I got the sense he was mobile, like he had on roller skates. He emphasized quite a bit on footwork. He'd stand still and then he would bounce in, skip in real quick, or dart in and out, and left and right. Bruce's speed-He was non telegraphic, and he was real good at subtle fakes, like a boxer. I studied him as much as I could, because he didn't telegraph. He would tell you he was going to hit you in the head, and he'd make a little preliminary movement and boom, he's in there. He was keen on closing the gap and he had a mind set. He had trained his mind for that. Like we were in a restaurant one time, and he told me to watch some guy, and that guy was going to take his chopsticks and grab his food. And you make a motion every time you anticipate when he's gonna do it. Time it, you know? So he was always on the job, you know?
Temple of the Unknown: Do you think that if Bruce Lee were alive today, he would be happy with the way in which people have used every trick in the book to make money out of his name?
Or would he be happy with his name being "promoted".
Leo Fong: No and no. He would be very sad. He always talked about prostituting the art. And that's what's going on, under many disguises. That's why I can say with a clear conscience that I never taught Jeet Kune Do. I've taught what I call Modified Wing Chun, and I tell people that you can find my roots in JKD. Bruce had a chance to go the "McDonald's" route, you know, franchising, and he pulled out of it. He said he'd rather teach in a garage.
Temple of the Unknown: What do you think of Bruce Lee's friends and students being controlled by Linda???
And of Linda shouting at Joe Lewis over the telephone, when Joe helped out Davis Miller for his book???
Which is a book based on FACTS???
Leo Fong: I don't about these guys being controlled by Linda. It seemed like these guys are doing their thing voluntarily. I don't know about Linda and Joe yelling or anything.
Temple of the Unknown: What do you think of an ex muscle magazine writer, who now claims that he is the "World Foremost Authority" on Bruce Lee, A "Friend and Historian", and a "Bruce Lee expert".
When Bruce Lee was alive this 'Friend' was 13 years old and never met him.
Has he any justification on these claims?
Leo Fong: One thing I say about John is that he's got all the notes and documents, and he's a Bruce Lee fan. He's probably a friend in spirit only, because he wasn't in the same era.
Temple of the Unknown: Was 'Sil Lum Tao' an important part of Bruce's correct root form to help his non-telegraphic punching speed and power re hip form (of course his dedication in training & willpower put him above the rest) and which other fighters did Bruce Lee really admire?
Leo Fong: That form has nothing to do with non-telegraphic motion. NTM is to be continually aware of all your body language.For instance when I was boxing, we would form a circle and jab while loking at the mirror to that you don't make any preliminary movements before you shoot that jab out. And so the only way to practice NTM is not througha form, but from actually throwing the punch itself. And constantly be aware of all the motions you make. It's like talking to somebody-they cross their legs, move their lips, etc. You have to be completely deadpan. A good example is when Norton broke Ali's jaw. Norton said in his book that he noticed Ali would tense his pectoral muscle before throwing the jab, so he timed it and caught Ali with an overhand right based on Ali's telegraph and Ali was Bruce's man. He had all of his fights on 8mm and he loved watching the Cleveland Williams fight over and over.
Temple of the Unknown: Are there any new movie plans for you in the future? Have you ever thought about writing a book about your Martial Arts Experiences?
Leo Fong: I just finished post production on a film called "The Bad Boys from Brazil", which stars the Machado Bros and Danny Inosanto. It'll be available at the Amer Film Market. I'm talking to Tadashi Yamashita about us doing a feature together. I don't know about a book right now.
Temple of the Unknown: I share your influences. I was brought up as a "church kid" but I didn't really get the teachings of Jesus Christ until I was older. My question is this, how do you strike a balance between your professional and spiritual sides? Specifically, do you find difficult to maintain beliefs and ideas when surrounded by everything else? I mean even Bruce really didn't believe in God did he?
Leo Fong: It's all relative. Why do you train in martial arts, for example? The higher goal strikes the balance. If I was training just to beat up people, and then go and try to embrace the gospel of peace, it's a conflict there. We find peace through developing ourselves. Because it has to do with self esteem. The person with the low self esteem does the most boasting. When you're young, you're not too settled in what you believe. As you crystalize your own identity, then you're not being influenced by every little thing that comes along. Bruce believed in a higher force. He might not have believed in God in a traditional way by going to church. Bruce believed in himself, and he was very spiritual. A lot of these martial arts guys like Uyeshiba were spiritual. Religious is what gets you in trouble. I'm not religious myself and I'm a minister. I'm a spiritual person. You can call it Chi, Ki, God, Jehovah or whatever you want to call it, it's just this creative force that's within us, and around us.
Temple of the Unknown: The superman/comic book hero/mythical figure which has been projected by Little and company is not the REAL Bruce Lee that you knew. Don't you think this is wrong to project Bruce Lee in this way and in a false image, its obvious its not the Bruce Lee you knew.
Little is moulding Bruce Lee into his own image/fantasy. Would you agree with this?
Leo Fong: I'm not going to say it's wrong if you buy into the thing and you can't tell the difference between illusion and reality. A lot of these 2nd and 3rd generation JKd guys are living in fantasy land. They tell themselves that they're JKD, so they're supermen. The misconception most people have is that they mistake the movie persona with the real Bruce Lee. Simply put, Bruce was a human being who was hooked on martial arts, and wanted the world to see what he knows.
Temple of the Unknown: Did you ever see Bruce lose his temper and what happened when he did?
Leo Fong: Did I ever see him lose his temper? All the time! I'll give you an example. We were at Black Belt magazine, and James Wu came in. He was dressed in this Buddhist/Shaolin Temple image. One thing Bruce hated was phonies and he felt James was one. He called him a phony and challenged him to a fight. Bruce was gonna start punching the walls. Then Jimmy tells him that he can't fight him because he might kill Bruce if he touches him. That made Bruce even madder. Out of respect for Mito, Bruce didn't do anything there. But I drove home with him, and he was angry!
Temple of the Unknown: Dan Inosanto has said how much he was once touched by Bruce buying him a set of weights which thought was for Brandon.
And also how he slipped Dan money for his Birthday dinner at the Mayaka restaurant, as Dan couldn't afford the bill.
Did Bruce ever buy you anything or do anything for you that really touched your heart???
Leo Fong: First of all without me asking, Bruce talked to Black Belt and put me on the cover. And I asked him why and he said I was unique. And another thing, he didn't give me anything tangible, but from that thing came the books. And he even helped me on that. He helped me to find the history of Choy Lay Fut. He did the research on it for me. Then he spent a whole evening breaking down the Siu Lum Gung Fu form, because the instructor wouldn't tell me. He kept saying it was a secret. Well Bruce broke it down, and to show you how briliant he was, he took this form, which was a real classical mess, and showed me how it works.
Temple of the Unknown: Have you ever run into any of the old Oakland school folks, like Howard Williams?
Do you still train in martial arts?
Have you ever met Joe Lewis?
Leo Fong: I speak to Allen Joe and David Cox from the Oakland days. I spoke to Allen about 8 months ago. I've known Joe Lewis for 35 years now. Ron Marchini and I used to throw tournaments around the Stockton area back in the sixties, and Joe would come and compete.
Temple of the Unknown: I was wondering if you feel that there is enough exposure of the "Oakland" period of Bruce Lee's development? Can you comment on your friendship with James Lee?
Leo Fong: No there's not a lot of exposure for the Oakland period. It's mostly the Chinatown school, which Danny ran. There's not a lot of people around to represent Oakland. My friendship with Jimmy Lee began in 1960. I met him at a Siu Lum School, and we were both looking for the same thing-something that worked. So after he met Bruce, that was his journey, you know, trying to find things that are practical. He didn't want to do any more forms. At the time before meeting Bruce, he thought there was something in the forms, something that would give him an edge. We both had the same interests, and later he hooked me up with Bruce.
Temple of the Unknown: Do you think Bruce Lee has stood the test of time?
Are his abilities & contributions to martial arts overstated? understated?
What do you think Bruce's lasting legacy will be?
There are some that see Bruce Lee as "super human" while others down play him every chance they get.
Can you off some comments & perspective?
Leo Fong: I'm sure from a fighting standpoint he'd be good as anyone over there. From the standpoint of his legacy, I'd say his ability to conceptualize the fighting arts. I think that would stand the test of time, because a principle is a principle. It doesn't matter how you express it forms or technique-the principle stands. Anyone who is perseptive enough can take it and increase their skill level of their art.
Temple of the Unknown: Q1) What was your initial reactions on hearing that Bruce Lee had died?. He was healthy, so you must have been very surprised?.
Q2) The Betty Ting Pei and Bruce Lee relationship was common news in the Hong Press. Were other women apart from Betty attracted to him?
Leo Fong: I remember waking up from a nap and turning on the t.v. in 1973. It was on the news that Bruce had died. I couldn't believe it. I thought it was a joke. How could that be, I asked myself. Bruce was in tip top condition. But I had a chance to talk to a neurologist and he said that it was possible that he could have been walking around with this balloon effect in his head and it could explode any time. It's probably genetic. I wasn't in touch with Bruce when this Betty thing happened, so I don't know anything about that.
Temple of the Unknown: If Bruce had of lived, what stage do you think JKD would be at now? Do you think it would of become a more wide spread fighting method?
Leo Fong: I think that if Bruce had lived JKD would have headed more into the spiritual level as Uyeshiba took Aikido in his later life. How many different physical and technical techniques can you come up with? So has to move into the spiritual level were he has razor sharp timing, a keen sense of awareness and perception of your opponent. So I think if he was around at 60 years old today, he would have had the spiritual depth to the physical techniques he had. I picked that up when he told that kid in Enter the Dragon that you must have emotional content. So it's not whether you punch with your lower knuckle or punch with fist pointing east or west or horizontal, it's what's inside the technique.
Temple of the Unknown: Was Bruce Lee unbeatable (Might be a silly question) and who would be Bruce Lee's toughest opponent if he were alive maybe 33 yrs old and why?
Finally last but not least, would Bruce have been able to defend himself in the UFC, or any other fierce fighter who would be much bigger and stronger (like the Rock/Stonecold from WWF or even Rakishi?
Leo Fong: Everybody can be beat. We all have a nemesis out there...Bruce always said that if he hooks, you punch straight. If he punches, you kick. It all depends on circumstances.
Temple of the Unknown: The ultimate aim of JKD was to finish the opponent on his first move i.e. intercepting. To be direct and it was a constant process of self-discovery and refining simplicity in your techniques.
My question is, do you believe with the huge number of JKD schools operating nowadays that they have lost their way to what Bruce's original street fighting art was all about and do you think Bruce would of approved of what is being taught under his name in today's JKD schools? (Howard Williams has said it's nothing similar today to what was taught by Bruce & James Lee at the Oakland school)
Leo Fong: I think in some ways. I see people like Magda and those guys, and they look watered down. It's not because they did it on purpose, it's that they've picked up bits and pieces and tried to put it together. If Bruce were able to come back today, he would have closed down 99% of these things.
Temple of the Unknown: What do you think BL would think of the state of the Martial arts of today?
What are your views as to his untimely departure?
Were you ever on the recieving end of his side kick, and was it as powerful as it looked?
Leo Fong: I think the first couple of UFC shows Bruce would have been interested in. I mean he would have whole heartedly said that's realistic and he's more into the realism of things. I don't think he would really applaud the ones that are staying alive with the cardio kickboxing program and Tae Bo. Because he'd say that they misconstrued this stuff to be combative in an exercise form. He was more into practicing martial arts as reality fighting. Yes, I was on the receiving end of his side kick. It was like getting hit with a truck.
Temple of the Unknown: I am wondering what Bruce thought of Wing Chun after he found JKD. The reason I ask such question is because nowadays in Hong Kong, a lot of Wing Chun practitioners think that if Bruce Lee had learned all the Wing Chun techniques, he wouldn't have created JKD. Also, what was Bruce's comments on his Wing Chun brothers, if any?
Leo Fong: Bruce would've messed up if he had 2nd and 3rd form! He said Wing Chun is like anything else-it's too classical. He said the trapping is a good idea and the sensitivity. But outside of that Wing Chun is a little bit better than some of the other classical stuff. If they were to fight classical people, they would have the edge. If they get out there and try to fight boxers and wrestlers and people who are really into the combative aspect of it, they'd be ineffective. He maintained a certain amount of trapping, but you'll notice that when he does trapping, it doesn't look like classical Wing Chun. So that's why he went in from the on guard position, which is a boxers stance. Towards the end he was really deviating from the Wing Chun. He was moving more like a kickboxer. We didn't have that phrase back then, but that's what he was looking like-a refined kickboxer. From the waist up, he was more Ali type upper movements and below the waist he was doing alot of Korean kicks, like spinning kicks, which he learned from Chuck Norris. So he was totally convinced that boxing had potential. But he said that boxing was over daring and he said that Karate was totally ineffective. He was making a comparison in the car one time, using the analogy of sex. He said Gung Fu is like masturbating. He said that boxing is pretty close to getting the real thing and he said Karate was kind of like foreplay. I was laughing like hell when he told me this.
Additional Wing Chun info by George Tan: I should supplement this with a Wing Chun story Leo had told me before. There was a guy named Chris Chan in the Oakland area who claimed he was Wing Chun. Bruce Lee and Leo went to check him out, cuz Lee had his doubts about the dude. So they met up with him and Lee and Chan did some "sticking". The guy was pitiful and Lee slammed him around. Afterwards he told the guy not to dare go around claiming he's from the Wing Chun clan. What this story tells me is that Lee still had an affection for his "mother" style and wouldn't let anybody knock the system. Except himself of course.
Special announcement by Leo Fong: I have to go for now. But before I go I'd like to tell everybody that I am teaming up with Joe Lewis and a couple of other Bruce Lee students,and we are forming an "Advanced JKD Association". We plan to give camps and seminars worldwide. If you watch Joe and I move around, we look very different, but our roots are the same, from Bruce. What we intent on doing is moving Bruce's ideas into the 21st Century. We are working on the program right now, and it will include very specific areas of development for the students, based on our experiences over the last 30 years. We have been cultivating what Bruce showed us without even realizing it sometimes, and now it's time to share it with the world. When I started training with Bruce, he had everybody stand in a southpaw position. I told Bruce that I felt uncomfortable like that, since I was a boxer. My strong side was orthodox. So Bruce told me to do whatever was comfortable for me. We'll keep you updated.