When I think about Wing Chun I think that certain aspects of it are great. At the same time I think that other aspects of it are not practical for the average student. Wong Shun Leung said that Wing Chun is a good horse but few people can ride it. I totally agree with this statement. The techniques in Wing Chun that anyone can learn are chain punching, chasing, simultaneous punching and blocking and certain aspects of sticking hands.
Jesse Glover and Bruce Lee broke a color barrier in 1959. They were like Leo Durocher and Jackie Robinson (the manager of the Dodgers and the Black player he signed, the first in US “white” professional sports, breaking the “color barrier”), except Bruce and Jesse broke the Chinese kung fu barrier quietly, in the back rooms and side streets of Seattle near the campus of Edison Technical College.
Born in San Francisco, Bruce returned to the US after growing up in Hong Kong to attend university (and perhaps to get out of trouble).
I am not 100% sure if Bruce was the first Chinese to teach kung fu to a non-Chinese (its possible), but he was certainly one of the first. Bruce was very open-minded on the subject and had himself been discriminated against in Hong Kong for his “race,” having a 1/8 German heritage.
Jesse Glover was Bruce’s first student and and I think its probable he was the first Black man to learn a Chinese martial art (I’d be interested to hear about anyone else you may have heard about).
This is a big deal, especially when you consider that African Americans in the inner cities were the first to really welcome the imported kung fu cinema in the late 1960s, and then to embrace the burgeoning industry and culture of kung fu which took root in LA, New York, and San Francisco, followed by the rest of the country.
Younger readers will find it hard to imagine the world of 1959, when Jesse started studying with Bruce. I
am from the generation following theirs (they were Boomers and I am whatever they call the next wave). Yet I still experienced a world with a serious racial divide as a kid. They still has colored-only drinking fountains in Georgia when I visited in 1967. I remember asking my mother what it meant, since I had grown up on military bases where racial equality was more or less imposed for the good of the service.
Seeing the photos of Jesse and Bruce, I think of all the firsts occurring as I grew up. First inter-racial kiss (between Kirk and Uhura on Star Trek). First woman to do this and black to take that office and and Asian in this capacity, one after another, for years, all through the 60s and 70s.
Interestingly, the first Asian congressman, Hiram Fong, took office in 1959, the year Bruce and Jesse met.
Below Jesse demos his non-traditional Gung Fu. That little skip jab he uses really reminds me of Dempsey’s falling step.
Someone on a Kung Fu Illustrated bulletin board commented that Glover’s article (quoted at the opening and in its entirety at the bottom) was depressing, particularly the comment from Wong Shun Leung about Wing Chun being “a horse not many could ride.”
I don’t find it depressing. If you want a simple system and learn to fight quickly, you should study Muay Thai or Boxing. These systems have few parts and can be grasped (but not mastered) quickly. You can be fighting competently in 6 months. I’ve struggled to develop a way of teaching Wing Chun where I can claim the same results. As Glover says, you can teach chain punching, but not the nuance which makes Wing Chun a superior system.
Wing Chun somehow got a reputation as being designed to be learned quickly. I can tell you this is wrong. I think they were comparing it to the 15 or 20 years need to learn the classical systems in the old school Chinese manner.
Wing Chun takes about 5-7 years just to “complete.” Not master, just to be shown enough to start the work of getting it into your body as a new set of reflexes. I think you can learn to fight competently in about 2 years, but the system (at least the WSL/Gary Lam/Greg LeBlanc system) is large, inter-locked, sophisticated, and full of hard to grasp nuance. Of course, much of the learning curve is of the “its so simple you don’t get it” variety.
It takes 5 – 7 years to even begin to internalize the subtle bio-mechanics and to start developing a flow between the various ranges (hitting, crossing hands, pulling, pushing, kicking, Chin Na).
Plus, I would say Sifu Wong’s comment would apply to all of the major sophisticated martial systems with an “internal” component, such as Tai Chi or Ba Gua. Hell, carpentry is a horse not many could ride, if we are talking comprehension of “finished” carpentry or the subtleties of joining.
Most people don’t have the patience or the tenacity to put in ten years (ten thousand hours!) developing a single skill, especially a martial art, especially these days, when anyone can buy a gun and have instant power.
But I obviously think its worth it (7 years and counting with my current teacher) – the fluid control of your body, the startling power, and the deeper elements of self control and actualization are all at the other end of the work you invest.
I have read this article in various places but no one has named their source. I am 99% sure its genuine, based on the content — Steve
Bruce Lee and Wing Chun by Jesse Glover (unknown publication)
When Bruce came to the U.S. in 1959 he knew about sixty percent of the Wooden dummy, the first form and parts of the second and third form but his Wing Chun training didn’t end there.
Fook Young a friend of Bruce’s father continued Bruce’s instruction in Wing Chun. Fook Young was a Chinese opera star from the time that he was ten. Each time that he joined a new opera he had to learn the Gung Fu style that Gung Fu master favored. Fook Young learned many many styles and he taught parts of them to Bruce. One of the style that he taught Bruce was Red Boat Wing Chun. The areas where Bruce excelled were sticking hands, closing, chasing and punching.
In Wing Chun and maybe in other arts people seem to suggest that someone is better than another person simply because they know more of the system than the other person. I would like to suggest that one can excel in the application of certain aspect of a system that will easily overcome someone who knows more of the system but can’t do it as well.
Wong Shun Leung was the person who talked about Bruce’s exceptional skills in many of the articles that he wrote or was interviewed in. Since I learned from directly from Bruce beginning in 1959 I know how he look felt and moved. When I saw a tape of Wong Shun Leung doing the first form and demonstrating various techniques it was clear to me where most of Bruce’s Wing Chun came from because he moved just like Wong.
If a person can close on their opponent before he can activate his neural system there isn’t anything that the opponent can do regardless of how many techniques he knows. By the time that Bruce returned to Hong Kong for the second time the only person who had a chance of stopping Bruce’s attack was Wong Shun Leung.
When I think about Wing Chun I think that certain aspects of it are great. At the same time I think that other aspects of it are not practical for the average student. Wong Shun Leung said that Wing Chun is a good horse but few people can ride it. I totally agree with this statement. The techniques in Wing Chun that anyone can learn are chain punching ,chasing, simultaneous punching and blocking and certain aspects of sticking hands. A lot of the material in the forms can’t be applied by most people in combat.
I think that the Wing Chun concept of sticking hands is one of the greatest concepts in martial arts but I think that very few people can stick very well. One of the reason that I think that it is so difficult to make work is because it like most art is designed to work against the specific techniques that the style uses. For each of the major techniques there is a counter that is supposed to be applied when you are attacked in a specific way.
The major problem with this idea is that most of the people that you are likely to get in a fight with are not Wing Chun men and they are not likely to attack in a Wing Chun manner. What seem to be readily apparent if one takes the time to look is that it is very difficult to determine what attack an opponent is using if one is waiting for the opponent to make the first move. This is particularly true in the area of sticking hands.
Over the years I have stuck with many Wing Chun men and few of them could apply the techniques that they advocated. Bruce advocated the use of pressure in his sticking and few of the people that I stuck with knew what to do against pressure. Lately the idea of pressure is gradually being adopted by various Wing Chun people but there are still vast numbers who are not aware of it’s existence.
Pressure adds a whole new element to the game. It allows you to develop the central nervous system in ways that cannot be done otherwise. With the use of pressure and a heck of a lot of practice your arms and body can learn how to offset your opponents actions before you cognitive brain is alerted.
Bruce was a master of this form of attack. Bruce developed such a quick close that few people could make even a simple response to his attack. If someone was able to respond he simply shut them down with pressure sticking and continued with his speedy punching attack which was unstoppable at close range. Picture this if you are standing five to six feet away from your opponent and he can close the gap before you can react what chance do you have. This was Bruce.
According to Wong Shun Leung ( the best modern Wing Chun fighter) Wing Chun is a fighting art nothing more or nothing less. He said that nothing is sacred in the style and that the critera for using something should be your ability to make it work. I think that this is an idea that is not pursued by most Wing Chun practitioners.
Over the years I have had people say that what I do is Wing Chun and that what I do is not Wing Chun. I know that many of things that I use originated in Wing Chun and that other things that I use came for other arts or grew out of the practicing and teaching that I have done. Over the years I have stuck hands with a wide sample of Wing Chun men several of whom were instructors, none of these people felt like Bruce and few of them could make their cherished techniques work. I would argue that Bruce’s focus on Wing Chun dealt with the things that the better practitioners used in real fights and these were the things that he could do like few others can.
I continue to be awed by Jesse’s skill level. He passed away in 2012 and a few continue to burn the torch of his legacy. Jesse said that Bruce had taken the metaphor for fighting and water from WSL. Thanks for posting this.
Steven Moody says
I appreciate Jesse’s blunt no-BS approach to Bruce’s legend. He clearly loved Bruce but didn’t worship him and he had a clear-sightedness about it. He knew Bruce when he was an immigrant kid in Seattle trying to figure things out. Bruce was great but he was a man and like a snowball rolling down hill, he picked up the elements of what would eventually become his persona from many people. It takes a village! I was just watching some films of Ali and Bruce clearly got a lot there as well. Like a magpie, he created himself by incorporating the best he saw in the world.