40 years later, the teapotmonk reflects back on watching Enter the Dragon for the very first time and how that movie came to influence not only his own career, but
It's forty years ago that I first sneaked into a cinema to watch an 'X' rated film. Believe me, it took some sneaking. I was only 15 and looked about 11. But it was worth it because the night was destined to stay with me forever.
Accompanying me that evening, was a smuggled portable tape player under my coat, and so I chose to sit at the front of the cinema, so that I could record the entire soundtrack on a C120 cassette tape. An early pirate you may rightly shout. But I had my reasons.
The quality was appalling. But it was not for commercial sale, nor to upload to Pirate Bay. It was for my younger brother who, like me, was equally obsessed with Kung Fu, and who, at three years younger, would never have made it past the ticket office.
It marked the beginning of a long journey. I had already started Judo classes at the local Judokwai, but after seeing Enter the Dragon I knew something had to change. For until that moment, I had only seen the more traditional approaches to martial arts: Judo, Karate, Ju Jitsu, Boxing. Now, I knew there was something else. Something that had never been mentioned in the books by Mas Oyama or John F. Gilby.
I knew because I had seen for the very first time, an unforgettable display of authenticity. Now, it all appears cliché, of course. But now, is 40 years later.
the spirit of bruce lee
An Uncertain agenda
I could never settle for a single approach. Perhaps it was the weekly stomach-kicking sessions we received whilst kneeling on the floor. The aim - we were told - was to breathe out with the blow, somehow using the stomach to protect the stomach. It was a logic that eluded me then, as now. Worse, many karateka cannot aim an accurate blow at the abdomen, instead striking wildly at the solar plexus or even the hip of the person next to you.
Perhaps it was the drop knuckle push ups on the concrete floor to develop the callouses that I found particularly anachronistic. In truth, all styles had their questionable elements. If we were sensible, we would have been more selective, and less devotional. It was a hard lesson to learn in the 1970's atmosphere of allegiance and confidentiality.
The Luxury of Looseness
the tendency of allegiance
To counter the tendency of allegiance, I learnt sword from a guy over from Hong Kong for a short stay in London. I learnt the Cane Form from a friend of a friend of a friend, and my push-hands is as derivative of Wu rather than that of Yang. I practice Silk reeling from Chen and even, yes...I will openly admit - some of my warm-ups come from the years I worked as a fitness instructor at a martial arts centre in South London. Why? Funny you should ask....
Because there is no single path, and therefore we must ultimately walk our own. Each of us is a hybrid. If not, why not? I am not talking about Yoga-Lates or Qi Jogging...please, give me some credit.
I teach Tai Chi - with a distinctive Teapot Flavour - using all the wisdom and advice received from all the teachers I have had the good fortune to train under. Teachers from all walks of life that is - inside and outside the dojo. But I do not emulate them. I do not attempt to mirror their classes, their clothing or their haircuts. I do not reach out for the same stars as they did. Nor do I speak the same words they spoke to me. Then again, One teacher told me:
Well, he laid himself open to that one I suppose
But in essence...the more honest you are with yourself, the more authentic will be your teaching. This doesn't always equate with effectiveness, but thats another debate altogether.
Authenticity I had learnt sitting in that front row of that cinema 40 years ago. This is what I had tried to explain to my younger brother as we listened intensely to the crackle of the tape deck late into the evening back in 1973.
Yes the "fight with the guards was truly magnificent", but it was not the speed of Lee's footwork, nor the Ohara Fight with the bottles, nor the nightmares that Bolo left me with, that held substance. It was the honesty and rawness of expression with all it's idiosyncrasies and traits leaking off the screen that I found had accompanied home that evening. Thanks for that Bruce. Happy 40th.
More on Bruce Lee?
WHO IS THE TEAPOTMONK?
Contrary to popular belief, the teapotmOnk (paul read) is neither a mOnk nor a teapOt. He is, however, a writer on Tai Chi, a podcaster & teacher with more than 25 years of experience. He can be found wandering between Andalucia (Spain) & Devon (Uk).
Contact him here or keep in touch, subscribe for some great Tai Chi stuff delivered to your inbox.