Friday, January 16, 2009

Liberate yourself from classical karate by Bruce Lee

The article "Liberate yourself from classical karate" by Bruce Lee

"Liberate yourself from classical karate" Bruce Lee

I'm sure all of us have heard this famous quote by Bruce Lee and maybe read his article which appeared in black belt magazine in September 1971.

I will confess that i am still a Bruce Lee fan, going along to see his movies in the mid 1970's at the cinema was an amazing thing for me and the millions of people who experienced martial arts movies for the first time and i haven't seen a reaction to any movie like that up until this day.

Bruce Lee may have been an advanced martial artist in wing chun kung fu but a karate master he certainely was not.

Funny that he didn't like karate but in all his movies he tends to showcase karate techniques like mawashi geri, choku zuki. karate stances etc etc, like in "Enter the Dragon" picture above over his wing chun techniques like rolling punches, lop sao, pak sao, and wing chun horse stance etc.

I truely think Bruce Lee was a martial arts legend but I think he got it wrong when it comes to karate, and the title of his article would have raised a few eyebrows and maybe even tempers back in those days.

He may have been trying to capture attention because at the time karate was the in vogue martial art, and what better headline and article to stir the pot and make people notice than the one published in black belt magazine.

In my opinion he was genuine about being discontent with the so called traditional martial arts but you have to wonder just how far he did research arts like karate that he may have found boring or useless due to kata practice or even his very own wing chun method.

It is well documented that Bruce Lee never completed his wing chun training, so how advanced was he in wing chun, did he know enough or had he practiced enough wing chun to defend himself in a real fight.

The reason i ask how much training Bruce Lee had in wing chun is because of his challenge match and how he fell short of his expectation which led him to research the martial arts and discover or create Jeet Kune Do.
Ip Man and Bruce Lee

As most people who practice martial arts are aware there seems to be a lot of ethnocentrism between the diferent styles of martial arts with all camps thinking they are better than the next guy, school, style, club etc etc.

As an example i once went along with a friend to a wing chun free lesson, the young wing chun instructor asked if we had martial arts experience and we both replied no, he then spent half the lesson telling us how bad the karate punch was and how superior the wing chun punch (chain punches) were compared to the karate punch.

I felt like saying to this young wing chun instructor that karate had a base in kung fu, so if you put down karate aren't you also putting kung fu down, but i didn't say anything.

If anything i think mma training has been a great eye opener to traditional martial artists in that mma encourages to look at all methods whether they are in your system or not, and not to blindly follow a path with blinkers on, maybe this will get rid of the stupidity assocaiated with ethnocentrism, because i personaly think most martial art have more in common than most people think.

Bruce Lee was an awesome athlete

I'm getting abit side tracked here getting back on to the article written by Bruce Lee, i think he (Lee) had a very superficial undestanding of karate, like most outsiders all he could see was forms, deep stances and fixed positions, now he was not only talking about karate but traditional martial arts in general including kung fu etc.

"There are many kinds of martial arts, a fundamental level these arts rest on the same basis. It is no exaggeration to say that the original sense of Karate-Do is at one with the basis of all martial arts. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form itself. The kara of Karate-Do means this." Gichin Funakoshi

Karate is a template, this template is designed as a training tool that takes you from begginer to an advanced level in the martial arts, Bruce Lee failed to recognise this imo thinking that the template is the method in combat.

Well how wrong was he?, plenty imo, like i said he just scratched the surface of karate and when he found it to be distatseful he stopped scratching, he never got to the heart of the matter.

Once you advance in the martial art of karate then it is up to you to personilise karate's standard template, since karate's standard template is for all shapes and sizes you have to taylor it to your shape and size.

This doesn't mean once you have become advance you then go off and teach your personal template as the standard one, just because it works for you it doesn't mean it will work for the next person.

Also you shouldn't try to be a clone of your instructor, he maybe tall and slim, you might be short and stocky, what works for him might not work for you, therefore its your responsibility to customise the karate template to your strengths and weaknesses.

If you fail to personilse the template of karate you will be stuck on a plateau, and you will not become advanced in this martial art nor will you poses the ability to use it in a self defence situation if you dont personilise your karate to your abilities and strengths.

If we look at some of the instructors that have come out of the JKA instructors course, some are great kickers others are great punchers, some are great at attacking, others are great counter fighters etc etc, yet they have all trained in the same martial art doing exactly the same techniques.

What sets them apart is they have personilsed their own karate to suit their body type, athletic ability, strengths and weaknesses etc. they have harnessed the techniques, startegies, tactics and philosophy which they can use best from the art and trained them well.

Failure to do this will result in failure to master the art of karate.

The template of karate makes this possible, even though you are bound by its methods in achieving an advanced stage, once you have achieved this advanced stage you are not bound to anything.

So rememeber there will come a time in karate training where you will have to take control of your training and yourself, sensei can only do so much the rest is up to you.

Bruce Lee martial arts superstar

A quote from Japanese scholar Izawa Nagahide

“You should detach from arts when you have mastered them. If you do not detach from arts, you are not an artist.”

And Gichin Funakoshi wrote;

The mind must be set free
(Be ready to release your mind from technique, kata, methods, styles, and any other attachments you may have)

Does this mean that once we have become advanced in karate we no longer need the vehicle (template) that got us to this advanced level, even though you do abandon the template when you are fighting?

Its the template that makes us what we are in terms of skill and martial ability, without the template you would not have achieved this higher advanced level in the first place.

Does the painter still not practice his scholastic brush strokes when his not painting.

I guess thats a question for each and ever karateka to consider.

When traditional karateka fight they become freestylists not bound by any rules, templates, methods, philosophies etc etc.

Karateka are just as free as jeet kune do stylist or mma stylists, they can choose to apply anything within their arsenal in which ever way they choose to,  there are no limits or boundaries.

All good martial arts (striking or grappling), especially traditional ones have a tried and tested template that has been refined by many people over many years and is designed to advance the practitioner in the best way possible, enchancing his abilities along the way as he masters the template and then personilises it to his strengths and weakneses.

Finally I would like to say that I have great respect for Bruce Lee as a martial artist and a human being, this article was not written to put Bruce Lee down just because I don't agree with all of his thoughts, he will always be a martial arts legend to many people across the globe including myself.

So there is my arguement as to why I think Bruce Lee was wrong about the martial art of karate-do.

Bruce Lee's yokogeri kekomi (side thrust kick)