Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Old School" JKD Reunion

This is a message I'm forwarding from one of the "old guard" who was at this event.

- Jeff


An Historic Oakland "Old School" JKD Reunion and Training Seminar Held in Hayward, California, April 30, 2006

In what has to be considered one most historic gathering of Oakland Jeet Kune Do (JKD) "Old School" legends in the Bay Area in nearly forty years, the Tao of Gung-Fu Club headed by Felix Macias, Jr. and his organization, conducted a free clinic and hosted an open house to share the art with serious devotees that wish to keep the flames of knowledge that were taught by Bruce Lee and James Yimm Lee alive for future generations.

This, the first of many scheduled monthly training and discussion sessions, was hosted by Professor Joe Olivarez and Crystal Suan at their USA Karate and Boxing Gym in Hayward, California. Among many things, it was a reunion and gathering of old guard and new school Oakland Jeet Kune Do practitioners that is now being heralded as a renaissance of "old school" Jeet Kune Do that emerged from the Oakland Years (1962-1965) when Bruce Lee and James Yimm Lee

It is Sifu Felix Macias, Jr. and his close-knit cadre of devotees hopes to keep alive the training methods, techniques, philosophy and spirit of Bruce Lee and James Yimm Lee when they first began creating JKD over forty years ago. Naturally, this was a time before Bruce achieved super stardom in the martial arts action-adventure film genre and did not have time to teach as he did during that era.

Attending this open house---in some cases unexpectedly---, were Great Grandmaster Al Novak, George Tom (Oakland JKD), Felix Macias, Sr. (Oakland JKD), George Lee (Oakland JKD), Allen Joe (Oakland JKD), Greglon Yimm Lee, Jessie Glover (Seattle JKD), Doug Lee (JKD Seattle), Dr. Zee Lo (JKD Los Angeles) and a plethora of students, family, friends and fans who have kept the flame of JKD alive all of the years since Bruce and James untimely passing in 1973.

Dragon and Tiger co-authors Sid Campbell and Greglon Yimm Lee were on hand to personally inscribe their Dragon and Tiger Oakland Years books and share recollections that had been historically chronicled for twenty years and documented in their 5 volume set that are based on the creation of Jeet Kune Do when it began forming in Oakland during the mid and late 1960s.

Master Mark Gerry, President of the World Martial Arts Masters Association and Hall of Fame was on hand to lend his support and meet some of the original students that trained with both Bruce Lee and James Yimm Lee. Notably, both Bruce Lee and James Yimm Lee are in his prestigious Hall of Fame and he felt that this tribute was both an honor and privilege to attend and share in this special tribute and new birth of Oakland Jeet Kune Do.

Among the unexpected visitors at this historic kickoff monthly training was Sifu Jessie Glover. He is officially acknowledged as Bruce Lee's first student from the Seattle Years and the one that shared his expertise in Judo with the "Little Dragon".

Hanshi Sid Campbell, noted for his in depth historic research on the early creation of Jeet Kune Do in the Oakland Era, was asked to make the opening remarks and introduce the JKD "Old Guard" to the new generation of eager seminar participants that came to train and learn what the Oakland era version of Bruce Lee's art was really all about.

He took the opportunity and that time to formally introduce Bruce and Jimmie's original students Al Novak, George Lee, Allen Joe, Felix Macias, Sr. and George Tom to the anxious trainees. Campbell then formally introduced Seattle "Old Guard" Sifu Jessie Glover, as if he was a member of the Oakland Jeet Kune Do family. Sid Campbell then explained that Sifu Glover's skills and knowledge was simply another branch of Bruce Lee's martial arts tree and part of the same family genealogical wise.

Hanshi Sid Campbell emphatically expressed to the audience that all of the legends in attendance were among the original inheritors of Bruce and Jimmie's personal art and their recollections were very vivid for it being over four decades since they last trained under their mentors in those times long before Jeet Kune Do was a household word among martial arts aficionados.

After some interesting Oakland Years (1962-1965) anecdotes, accolades formal introductions of the first generation, Hanshi Campbell introduced the second-generation beginning with Sifu Felix Macias, Jr., Greglon Yimm Lee (James Yimm Lee's son) and JKD exponent and film star Dr. Zee Lo.

Sifu Felix Macias, Sr. then addressed the gathering and fondly recalled many of the memories and recollections of his early training with his teachers Bruce Lee, James Yimm Lee and Al Novak. Sifu Macias, Sr. obviously touched with emotions poignantly recounted from those early times - in an honorable and befitting tribute to these men and the impact they has had on his life during the past four decades - the caliber of talents these great men possessed. The students and spectators hung on his every word as he conveyed several accounts of where he had learned a lot about life from those early teachings. He then conveyed that he had tried to pass those on to his son Felix Macias, Jr. who he has passed on the JKD methods, techniques and philosophies that he had learned from his martial arts mentors.

After explaining just how important and vitally essential Al Novak had been to the early JKD creation in Oakland, he commenced to bestow praise on how incredibly Great Grandmaster Novak's Iron Palm and breaking techniques were during the time when everyone thought performing such feats were near impossible or quite perhaps stunt tricks to dupe the public. He added that Al Novak was the first Caucasian to be accepted into the tight clique of Chinese that studied gung-fu (kung-fu) during those early tears when the Chinese martial arts were closed to outsiders. Great Grandmaster al Novak sat nearby and quietly reflected on those times when the martial arts were barely getting a foothold in America.

Hanshi Campbell added that Al Novak was the only person that his Sifu Bruce Lee would not spar with in public, because of his enormous speed, power, barrel-like chest and rugged physique. Again, Great Grandmaster Novak sat passively but smiled knowingly that that was an era

Greglon Yimm Lee then moderated a question & answer session where each of the legendary Oakland and Seattle Jeet Kune Do pioneers fielded queries from the enthusiastic students. Sifu Jessie Glover talked about his early experiences and methods of training with Bruce Lee in the Seattle Years. He explained how he first met Bruce Lee and shared anecdotes about how he and the "Little Dragon" formed the bonds of friendship. The participants of the seminar got a chance to witness firsthand why Sifu Glover is highly sought after to teach and share the knowledge that Bruce Lee taught when he was bussing and waiting tables when he was a student at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Jessie Glover's quickness and artful control of his opponent was quite evident when volunteers stepped out on the mat and Sifu Glover demonstrated his finesse and highly times trapping and punching defense maneuvers. It was obvious to all that Glover had learned his lessons well and had not missed a beat in more than forty years of teaching and sharing what his gung fu mentor Bruce Lee had taught him back in the early '60s.
Sifu Glover also explained the situations and circumstances leading up to him traveling to San Francisco and Oakland and meeting James Yimm Lee for the first time. It was obvious it left a lasting impression on him by the way he recounted how James Yimm Lee had demonstrated some self-defense techniques on that very first introduction in the living room at Lee's home at 3039 Monticello Avenue in Oakland, California.

Then, Hanshi Sid Campbell introduced Allen Joe, of whom he remarked and remarked several times of just how close he resembled James Yimm Lee. Allen added that many, many people back in those early days thought James and he were brothers. The resemblance was uncanny and anyone knowing both James Yimm Lee and Allen Joe can see the similarities almost immediately.

Allen was James Yimm Lee's student, friend and confidant---and one most directly responsible for bringing Bruce lee and James Lee together in the first place. After taking to the floor, Allen Joe answered a lot of the questions relating to Bruce Lee's bodybuilding and training with free weights. Joe, well into his 80's and still in superb shape shared several anecdotes of how he and James were the inspiration behind Bruce wanting to do develop his physique like theirs. This would be one of Bruce Lee's trademarks when he reached the pinnacle of super stardom after the release of Enter the Dragon.

Sifu Allen Joe shared, albeit modestly and with a great deal of humbleness, how he had trained with the likes of some of the world's renowned bodybuilding champions during the 1930s and 1940"€™s. Both he and James Yimm Lee had earned reputations and held titles in bodybuilding when Asians were virtually non-existent during that era. What was impressive was that Allen Joe had been a part of the movement that brought bodybuilding into the limelight of the general public and opened the doors for Chinese to enter that sport and be respected for their discipline and training that previously had been dominated by Caucasians with seemingly larger and more robust physiques. Bruce Lee was very impressed by that and trained in the bodybuilding regiments that both Allen and James prescribed for him.

Bruce Lee spent an inordinate amount of time learning bodybuilding from both Allen and James when Bruce and Linda relocated to Oakland from Seattle during that time.

George Lee shared some of his stories about Bruce Lee, James Yimm Lee and himself that rarely get conveyed to the new JKD devotees. He, being the personal friend and confidant that built Bruce Lee's custom training equipment, the "Little Dragon" personally created and designed long after moving to Los Angeles and getting into the Green Hornet television series. Even when Bruce begun pursuing major motion picture roles George Lee continued building highly specialized pieces training equipment, punching pads and devices that he used to enhance his physique and extend the boundaries of his human potential while simultaneously taking his training to then unheard of heights.

He also had with him several copies of his book titled, Regards to a Friend that featuring 27 letters that Bruce sent to him the years when he, Linda and Brandon relocated to Los Angeles. The letters and photos contained within the book historically document Bruce Lee and George Lee's friendship and cover subjects from martial arts to philosophy to training equipment. To some there that had never met George before, this was a very special opportunity to ask questions about him and Bruce Lee's relationship and learn about what made this relationship so special. You could see it in George Lee's eyes with that spark - for a man nearing ninety years old, that the fondness for the memories that he and Bruce Lee shared were more than mere passing acquaintances. They were confidants, comrades and family when it came to sharing a love for the martial arts. And, since many had their copies of the Dragon and the Tiger, George was delighted to sign them since he was prominently featured in these works.

George Tom was then introduced and he discussed many of the training techniques and ways in which James and Bruce were simplifying their own person fighting style(s) and integrating techniques that came from different styles known to them collectively at the time. Tom further explained the importance that he thought his teachers (Sifu) Bruce and James were trying to achieve in being direct as possible when engaged in realistic combat on the street. He called for a volunteer from the audience and commenced to demonstrate some of the simplified principles that today hold a prominent place in the art of Jeet Kune Do. The attendees found the concepts to be consistent with the techniques Sifu Felix Macias, Jr. had been teaching before all of the legendary JKD pioneers arrived later that morning.

Afterward, George Tom's insightful demonstrations and recollections describing James Yimm Lee's ways of training and conditioning the hands with 2-inch diameter ball bearings in a large bucket, he relinquished the training area to Dr. Zee Lo. A second generation Jeet Kune Do practitioner and film star that has carried on Bruce Lee's traditions in both teaching and the cinematic industry.

Following, Doug Lee, one of Bruce Lee's students in Seattle that relocated to the Bay Are many years ago, shared in some of his experiences of training in the old days. He explained that the simplicity was what Bruce was always trying to achieve from experimenting around with fighting techniques. This seemed to be the theme that many of the special guests recounted from their experiences of training in "Old School" JKD.

Dr. Zee Lo then took to the mat and shared his experiences and training with his mentors who had trained directly with Bruce Lee in Los Angeles. Since he has followed in the footsteps of his Grandmaster Bruce Lee and wrote, produced and starred in of his own motion pictures, namely; Chasing the Dragon, Martial Medicine and Combat Mortal, Dr. Lo had much to share with the students in attendance at the free open house clinic and discussion workshop.

In addition to performing some very explosive and well-timed precision trapping, blocking and striking close-range fighting techniques with several volunteers from the mesmerized audience, Dr. Lo then demonstrated his version of Bruce Lee's famed 1-inch punch. To the amazement of the spectators, Zee Lo broke 2 1-inch boards with a flurry of motion and a shattering sound of wood snapping under enormous impact from a sharp single blow. This garnered resounding applause from everyone that in gym. What noticeable by many in attendance was their comments of just how much Dr. Zee Lo moved like his grandmaster Bruce Lee. His speed, timing and directness were uncanny in that regard.

After the demonstration, a Dragon and Tiger book signing was in order. Naturally co-authors Sid Campbell and Greglon Yimm Lee had their hands full signing personalized inscriptions of their first 3 volumes of "The Dragon and the Tiger" of the intended 5-volume series. Virtually everyone at the gathering secured themselves a copy of one or more of these historical biographies that chronicles the creation and development of Jeet Kune Do in Oakland. Since some of the pivotal legends that had made JKD popular back in the day were there in attendance, it was the perfect opportunity to have their books personally autographed by them as well. After all it was a historic time, a historic gathering and most certainly a historic event that will perhaps never be repeated like that again anytime soon. It was also an event that will be remembered for many years ago!

To learn more about the Oakland JKD Era visit
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