Enter the Dragon shook the martial arts world in the early 1970's. Suddenly Karate schools offered Kung Fu and the cliched karate chop was substituted by the a series of Crouching Tigers and Hidden Dragons. But has there been a more valuable legacy than yet more commercialisation of the East?
It's forty five 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 I got in with the help of my older brother convincing the ticket seller that I was just short for my age.
Other than my brother, accompanying me that evening was a smuggled portable tape player under my coat. 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 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 during our Shotokan training. The aim - we were told - was to breathe out with the blow, somehow using the muscles of the stomach to protect the delicate contents within.. It was a logic that eluded me then, as now. Worse, many karateka cannot aim an accurate blow at the abdomen, instead kicking wildly at the solar plexus or even the shoulder or hip of the person seated next to me.
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 for 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, we must ultimately walk our own. Each of us is a hybrid, a fusion and mesh-up of all we have known and experienced. If not, why not? And no, 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. teachers who wore their suits with pride, others who refused to don such silly garments. 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.
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 tasted, sitting in that front row of that cinema 45 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.
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