So here’s how the story goes. It’s just a small anecdote about Bruce Lee (off stage) and Jimmy Lee (right in the middle). It’s also about keeping secrets and paying odd debts, with just a bit of rectifying humor in the bargain.
It starts with one of the first English language books about Kung Fu, authored by a noted west coast Sifu of the Southern style, T. Y. Wong. He wrote “Chinese Karate Kung Fu Original Sil Lum System for Health and Self Defence” in 1961. He also ran a school—called Kin Mon— located at 880 Sacramento St. in San Francisco, in the fifties and sixties.
Wong was traditional, at least in some sense of the word. He taught a southern Shaolin style of relatively little fame. He taught forms and basics. His school uniform was a version of the famous Jing Mo style with black satin and white piping. His uniform coat was distinct, with the hem cut in zigzag sections.
Among his students was a young Jimmy Lee. This was before Bruce was on the scene and Jimmy studied diligently for a few years. From Sifu Wong he learned the basics of Iron Palm training and is actually shown in Wong’s book demonstrating the general form, and assisting with some self defense techniques.
Everything was going fine until one day Jimmy was in the studio practicing his sets when he noticed Wong’s son, about eight years old, performing the same routines. At a glance, Jimmy could see how inferior was the version of the art he had been taught. He was Chinese, but a Lee not a Wong. At least, that’s what some people thought went through his mind. He quit Wong’s studio shortly, but continued practicing alone. He wasn’t afraid to study western boxing and he kept up his Iron Palm skills, eventually writing one of the first books in English on this practice.
Time passed. He met another teacher, a young man named Lee Xiao Long (Bruce Lee). Working with Bruce he felt none of that frozen custom he had experienced before.
This began a vigorous and landmark relationship with Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun. Jimmy also incorporated his own findings on Boxing, practical Kung Fu training, body and weapon conditioning. Not many people are aware that it was Jimmy Lee’s design and welding skills that originated many of the prototype training mechanisms just becoming associated with the advancement of what would one day be Jeet Kun Do, but at this period was known as Jun Fan.
By this time, Jimmy had written one of the few books on Kung Fu in English. It featured a picture on the front cover much like the back cover he had done for T. Y. Wong, catching the moment of breaking a brick with his hand—this time with the powerhouse Al Novack (see above) featured. However, by this time, T. Y. Wong had written a second volume featuring a back page with his own son breaking a brick, modeled after the picture of Jimmy Lee. The insults, though quiet, were beginning to fly back and forth.
The insults, though quiet, began to fly back and forth (note that Lee changed Karate Kung Fu on the cover to Kung Fu Karate). Then, one day, Bruce decided to write his own book, explaining his beliefs about Kung Fu and its philosophical base. There was no form, just applications that showed a fast, efficient approach to fighting and, of course, the mysterious Sticky Hands exercise. There were also testimonials by Ed Parker and Ralph Castro, lauding this new master. To illustrate the difference between real Kung Fu and the “traditional mess,” Bruce included some comparisons.
For this exposé, Jimmy put on his old Southern Shaolin uniform. Then, to demonstrate how ineffective and slow the “classical” approach was, Bruce and Jimmy repeated the self defense movements from Wong’s book. Next, Bruce promptly demonstratd the flaws, generally destroying each technique in mid-flight with a straight forward, beautifully direct response, along with a cold dose of common sense.
The pay back here was small and actually pretty classy. Who would know except those who already knew? As far as efficient fighting technique was concerned, Jimmy went from disgruntled student to become a strong martial artist.