Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Taky Kimura Interviewed by Paul Bax




The Taky Kimura Interview
Interview Conducted By Paul Bax

When I first started investigating Bruce Lee and his art of Jeet Kune Do, I remembered an old Lee saying, "If you understand the root, you understand all of its blossoming." With this in mind I decided to dig up some roots that have never been exposed before. Those roots, or more properly, that person is Taky Kimura. Mr. Kimura was Lee's first instructor when Bruce opened his first official school. Obviously Bruce saw the same qualities in Taky that he did in his other instructors James Lee and Dan Inosanto. Those qualities were extreme humility, respect for their sifu and the fact that none of them would ever commercialize his art of Gung Fu. Taky has been happy to go about his business in Seattle and leave the limelight to others. In his first interview ever, Mr. Kimura sheds some much needed light on the Seattle years, talks about the woman behind the superstar - Linda Lee, and expresses his sorrow over the death of Brandon Lee.

HOW DID YOU FIRST MEET BRUCE LEE?
TK: I met him in 1 959 when he first came to Seattle. He first landed in San Francisco, but Ping Chow had been in Bruce's father�s theater presentation and I think they owed the Lee family some favors so they said they would take care of Bruce. That�s probably why he came here.


WERE YOU IMMEDIATE FRIENDS OR DID YOUR RELATIONSHIP SLOWLY GROW?
TK: No, actually Bruce was working in Chow's restaurant and every morning he would go down a street called Broadway which took him down to the Edison Vocational School. He bumped into his first student Jesse Glover and I met Bruce through the group of guys Jesse Hung out with.


AT THE SEATTLE SCHOOL. DID BRUCE INTEGRATE OTHER ARTS AT THAT TIME OR WAS IT STRICTLY WING CHUN?
TK: Well, Bruce was well endowed in a number of styles such as Hung Gar, Choy Le Fut, Preying Mantis, all these different arts. He was very knowledgeable with all these different arts, but I think that he probably found that he identified most with Wing Chun as being more realistic in his eyes prior to leaving Hong Kong, so he did concentrate on more of a modified Wing Chun version to my knowledge. At that time I really wasn't knowledgeable with tall the different aspects of styles. Looking back that's my assessment.


SO EVEN THEN, HIS ART WAS A MODIFIED FORM OF WING CHUN, NOT THE TRADITIONAL ART?
TK: That's right. Bruce was a very keen minded fellow that could just look at something in a moments time and translate it in his own mind as to what works and what doesn't. That was sort of his make-up. Every style has a lot of classical motions as well as the more realistic, simplified things and so I think he picked out what he thought was more realistic and that's what he taught us.


SINCE YOU WERE IN CHARGE WHEN BRUCE COULDN'T BE THERE, WHAT DID HE STRESS TO YOU TO STAY AHEAD OF THE REGULAR STUDENTS?
TK: Well, he was always on the scene pretty much, but there were times when he was involved in his school work, so he actually let me lead the class to begin with, but he always came into the class before it was over to make sure we were doing things right. Prior to each session he would take me aside and we would rehearse different things that we would be working on for the next class. It wasn't as if I was doing something on my own. Everything I did was very realistic and what he wanted me to do.


BRUCE WAS FAMOUS FOR HIS ONE INCH PUNCH. WERE THE MECHANICS OF THIS PUNCH TAUGHT OPENLY AT THE SEATTLE SCHOOL?
TK: Oh yeah. The consensus is I guess if you teach someone, you teach them seventy five percent of what you know, so you have that other twenty five percent in reserve in case he turns on you (laughs). He was very free with his knowledge and if he looked at you and felt you were trustworthy and sincere, he taught you. He didn't care what race you were. He taught me the one inch punch and I try to follow through and show my students. The one-inch punch was always one of the things he demonstrated at tournaments.


CAN YOU RECALL BRUCE'S FIGHT WITH THE KARATE BLACK BELT IN KARATE?
TK: Well, I can tell you as much as I know. I actually wasn't on the scene when it happened. This guy was a second or third degree Black Belt from Japan. His first name was Yoechi, but I can't remember what his last name was now. This guy was a fanatic about what he thought he knew. He was on the scene here and of course both he and Bruce were going to the same school. Whenever Bruce would demonstrate something this guy took it personally, like Bruce was trying to put him down but that wasn't the case at all. He would pop up at exhibitions and he would get and challenge Bruce openly on the stage. It finally got to the point where Bruce had to tell him if he kept this up they would have to settle this thing. Of course the karate guy was ready to go immediately then. Bruce said, "Let's get this straight, your challenging me, right?" The guy said, "Yes, I'm challenging you." Then they decided to go down to the local handball court and locked themselves in there. When they got started the karate guy opened up with a kick that Bruce blocked and then he just straight punched him all the way down the length of the handball court. When he bumped into the wall and he was falling, Bruce kicked him. The whole thing was over in eleven seconds. After that this guy wanted to become a member of our class. He wanted to become Bruce's disciple. To show you what kind of guy Bruce was, he actually let him in our class for awhile.


HOW LONG DID THIS GUY LAST IN CLASS AFTER THAT?
TK: Well, he was in class for maybe a month and them he kind of petered out. Maybe he felt he was humbling himself too much. It's kind of hard to say.


EVEN BACK IN THOSE EARLY DAYS, PEOPLE USED TO SAY THEY BEAT UP BRUCE. DID YOU HEAR THAT A LOT?
TK: Yeah, I used to hear all kinds of things, but obviously...(laughs). You're still hearing things like that now.


WEREN'T YOU SEVERELY INJURED IN A DEMONSTRATION WITH BRUCE?
TK: It was a demo during a routine class workout. The group of students were to the far right of us and he was facing me to the left of the group and was telling them that the force of the punch had to be something that penetrated through rather than stopping at the point of impact. I was wearing glasses at the time and he was looking over to the students, so then he let go with this wicked punch that got me in the eye. It broke my glasses of course and I had glass splinters all through out my eye. It almost knocked me out. They took me to the hospital and I was okay. That's the only time he ever missed. He used to throw the nunchaku's around my head and I could just barely feel them touch my hair. After that particular incident I started to worry. He was keenly able to use those things (nunchaku's). It never bothered me because he never missed except for that one time.


DID JESSE GLOVER (LEE'S FIRST STUDENT) GET KNOCKED OUT AT A DEMONSTRATION?
TK: I don't recall Jesse ever getting knocked out but whenever we had these demonstrations we had free-style sticking hands to show the prowess of it. If you look at just brute strength, Jesse was probably bigger and stronger than Bruce, but you have that inner strength that sort of comes out of you. Bruce used to talk about how he could call it forth during an extreme emergency or something like when there is a fire. This adrenaline flow brings that kind of power forth. I think Bruce had the ability to call forth that kind of energy at will. He was only five foot seven and one hundred thirty five pounds. He had a defined physique but he still wasn't a big man. When you look at somebody of that stature coming up with that kind of power, you wonder where the hell it is coming from.


IT IS INTERESTING YOU BRING THAT UP SINCE TOM BLEEKER (LINDA LEE'S EX-HUSBAND AND BRIEF STUDENT OF BRUCE) SPOKE OF THAT IN A RECENT MAGAZINE ARTICLE. HE ALSO CLAIMS BRUCE COULD TAP INTO THAT SOURCE OF ADRENALINE AT WILL.
TK: Oh yeah. They talk about mind and body matter being two different things but I firmly believe they are one in the same. You can't just say it is a separate entity. That's just my feeling. I am sixty nine and I feel I'm still learning a lot of things within myself. I'm beginning to tap into that chapter that I have never been to.


HOW OFTEN DID YOU SEE BRUCE AFTER HE LEFT FOR OAKLAND?
TK: His mother in law was still up here, so he wanted to bring his wife and son to see them from time to time. I would say in the earlier part of after he left he was up here maybe two or three times a year. He would always tell me in advance when he was coming and ask me to set time away from my job so we could go over the new things he was doing. This was one of the things I really appreciated, because he would show me different things they were doing that he had gone into from what he had been doing here. I felt honored to be a part of a continuing friendship and the fact he hadn't forgot me.


WOULD HE TRY TO LIBERATE YOU FROM HIS PREVIOUS TEACHINGS IN SEATTLE AND IF SO, WHAT DID HE STRESS TO YOU?
TK: Well, one of the things he did when you talk about liberation is at one point he said how strongly we attach the importance of chi sau. When he started teaching Kareem Abdul Jabbar for instance - sticking hands, he could recognize there was such a vast physical difference between him and Kareem that chi sao became much more useless than it would be with someone in the range of your own size. At one point he called me and said sticking hands was really not the focal point of things as we thought earlier. At this time I didn't understand the impact of what he was saying, but now I understand. He told me when he was looking at Kareem s navel and he said normally if you extend your foot you could keep yourself out of range from getting hit if you got your leg out there. With Kareem, he (Bruce) could have his leg out there, but Kareem could still hit him. He was over a foot taller. One of the things about Bruce as I said earlier was that he was a guy that could look at something in a flashing moment and tell you the value of it. I think when he first got here to when he was in Oakland and Los Angeles, he was on an up plane of learning things about himself. You read these life stories of all these martial artist and they tell how they learn something from one guy and then they can]t learn anything more so they go to the next guy and they]re always looking for some kind of challenge that will take them up to the next step. I think Bruce went through that same process. The big difference was that he was a man that wasn't tied down to a "classical mess" as he used to call a lot of things. He was self-liberated in that he was looking for things that kept him away from just having tunnel vision.


HAVE YOU FOUND THE SAME LIMITATIONS IN WING CHUN THAT BRUCE DID?
TK: As far as Wing Chun goes there is a vast amount of knowledge there and, to be honest with you, I don't know much of it. The only thing I know is the modified techniques that Bruce taught us. If some of those people who are real Wing Chun artists would come into our club and see us they would probably shake their heads and say "What the hell are these guys doing?" I can't really say one way or the other about it. I think the concept of Wing Chun in principle is very good. It's a simplified straight movement in that it takes away a lot of the impractical things you might see in another structure. When I mention this I certainly don't mean to take anything away from anyone else. I always tell guys that want to get into our private club that you might think wrestling or boxing is the best thing and if that's the case, that's what your going to excel in if that's how you feel. We're not here to tell you we have something that is better than boxing or anything else.


DO YOU THINK BRUCE KEPT A LOT OF THINGS TO HIMSELF?
TK: I think Bruce was very open with me and I think one of the reasons was he didn't see any threat from me. I'm a very passive guy and I was much older than he was. We had a very strong friendship bond between us and I always felt Bruce never held anything back from me that he had but at the same time he knew I was only capable of digesting so much at any given point in time so he wouldn't try to inundate me by throwing a bunch of stuff at me. Every time he came up he would have the next little set of things he wanted me to practice on. At the same time I never pestered him or pushed him because I always had a strong feeling in my mind he wasn't going to hold anything back from me and that he was going to give me whatever he thought I needed at what point in time he felt I needed it.


HOW DO YOU VIEW BRUCE LEE'S ART OF JEET KUNE DO?
TK: Well, I think he certainly has to be given credit for revolutionizing the whole industry of the martial arts. During the late fifties and early sixties there was a lot of mysticism in terms of the martial arts. A lot of the stuff you saw was classical motions and forms and those kind of things and again I don't say this to try to put anybody down or minimize the value of it in terms of the total goal of where you're going. Bruce had his own way of doing things and I just feel very honored that I was one of the guys that got to know him as well as anybody did.


DID YOU ACTUALLY SEE JEET KUNE DO?
TK: I guess I can say that I was the only guy in Seattle that really saw the stages of Jeet Kune Do that he was into whenever he came up here. At that point he wasn't teaching anybody. He would teach me privately different things he was doing. I guess I can say I was the only guy he kept pace at the level he was in when he came up here. It's a very confusing thing. Everybody looks at JKD and tries to say what it is.


DO YOU THINK THERE WAS AN ACTUAL SYSTEM OF JEET KUNE DO?
TK: Here's my view point: If you want to compare it to a sculptor that takes a piece of clay and ends up with a beautiful art object, then he's casting off these little pieces of clay that aren't necessary but in order to get to that beautiful sculpture you will still have to know how he got there. So, yes I think there are pieces that need to be gone through to get up to that point.


WITH YOUR BUSY SCHEDULE, HOW OFTEN AND HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU TEACH?
TK: First of all, it's a private club, we won't charge anything and we are not looking for students. I'm a guy that likes to stay in the woodwork here. I'm not at all trying to make any statements or let anybody think anybody knows anymore than someone else. My knowledge is very limited but I feel secure with what Bruce taught me. My satisfaction is if I can share that knowledge with somebody who's out there afraid to assert himself in the group that he's in because he might be ashamed of something he said wrong. Bruce used to say, "If you have something to say, for God's sake-say it!" In other words, instill a little more confidence in yourself. It relates itself to so many facets of life whether you're driving down the road, attending a business meeting or if you're just talking to somebody. Actually, you're in some form of oral combat with the guy your talking to. You have to harmonize yourself and let it flow. I think that's one of the big things I gained form Bruce. This group I have here, we're not teaching anybody how to fight, we're just sharing something with them that if it gets them on the next level of feeling good about yourself then we've done something.


DO YOU CERTIFY PEOPLE IN JUN FAN GUNG FU?
TK: Oh no, I don't do any of that kind of stuff. I'm not looking for anyone to put me on a pedestal because I know I don't belong there. One of the good feelings is I can work with these people but if there's anything to do with certification I just tell them to go to Dan Inosanto. He's the guy who I believe has been left with the legacy of Bruce Lee.


YOU RECENTLY DROPPED OUT A JKD SUMMER CAMP. WHY WAS THIS?
TK: That's not my bag, Paul. If I were into that scene I would have started a school a long time ago. With my closeness to Bruce I could have made a lot of money but that's not where it's at as far as I am concerned. I'm just interested in being in my little corner. People want to come into the club but unless they are of the same philosophy I am, then I just don't take them. It's just wasting their time and mine. Bruce and I had a long and harmonious feeling about nationwide schools. At one time he and I were talking about starting a nationwide string of schools but when he found out that...and I say this in a very qualified manner because there are many schools that are dedicated in a very sincere manner but then there are other guys out there who are looking to make a lot of money and they don't care if you come today or tomorrow, they're just going to appease you by giving you rank if they think. you've been there long enough. As long as the moneys flowing. When Bruce saw that, he was frustrated with it, so we decided against the idea. One of the last things he said, and I concur with him totally, was that, "What is really important except that you have a few close friends around you and workout twice week and go down to Chinatown o have a cup of tea." I think there is a lot of importance there, you know. That's kind of where I am. I'm not a fighter or anything like that. I'm a very passive guy. If I can help somebody then that's important.


WITH THE "JKD SOCIETY" DISBANDED, DO YOU FEEL THERE NEEDS TO BE A NEW GOVERNING BODY?
TK: I think Dan Inosanto is the person that has been left with the legacy of Bruce Lee, so with him lies the key to some kind of consensus there. Otherwise Bruce is going to be forgotten. If he isn't forgotten it's going to be so fragmented and in different directions nobody's going to understand what he stood for. Dan is the guy who is at the head of the group to lead us into the future with a true perspective of what Bruce was and who he was. Dan is the kind of guy that has such humbleness about him and is so dedicated to making sure whatever Bruce stood for doesn't get misconstrued. He's logically the fellow that needs to be there. I think all these other people around him will rally around him and allow him to form a body that will take this thing into the future. My feeling is Dan needs to come out to assert the leadership that everyone is looking for. Dan might emphasize Kali but that's what people want him for. People like Ted Wong, Dan Lee and all those guys, they were the nucleus of who Bruce was teaching down there. For anything to occur that shows different directions among these people obviously shows a lack of communication. We can't have it continue by having different people doing different things. It has to be structured and made into a focal point, much more than it is now. It takes things like this to get things back together.


CAN YOU GIVE ME SOME INSIGHT INTO LINDA LEE?
TK: Nobody has ever given Linda the credit she deserves. This woman has been one hell of a pillar of strength out thee. I don't think Bruce would have aspired to the height that he did without her support. Look what she did for her son. She was a pillar of strength for him him, too. Nobody ever gives Linda credit. I tell you, she's ten feet tall. First her husband, now her son. Dan was hopeful one day he [Brandon] could take the whole thing over and lead it. That's exactly what Dan told me. He said Brandon came in very humble. He worked from the very beginning. He didn't come in and say, "Hey, I'm Bruce Lee's son, I'm going to start at the top," he started at the bottom like everybody else. He very humbly took his lumps and worked his way up. Dan said this young man had all the moves and the coordination similar to what his dad had. Dan was hopeful one day he could groom him and he could be the leader and take over. What a beautiful thought. If Dan was a greedy, dishonest guy he would never had any feelings like that.


HOW HAVE YOU FELT ABOUT THE LOSS OF BRANDON LEE?
TK: I think it is tragic from the emotional stand point that a mother, after she lost her husband then loses her son in a rather similar way, in a shroud of mystery. Here was a young man who was just on the threshold of doing a lot of big, fine things. You find yourself asking questions. How is it you find all these derelicts out there year after year, falling over the sidewalk just like they were fifteen years ago, but they're still up and around. I'm not one to judge, but it seems these people haven't contributed anything to society but here comes a shining star that has all the potential to contribute something and his life is snuffed out. Your find yourself questioning. One thing about Brandon, I saw some films recently of him doing some choreography on his own, different fight scenes, things like that. I knew Bruce pretty well, I knew the ability he had: the moves, the intense look he had in his eyes. It really made me feel good that I saw that same spark and cunningness and quickness in Brandon.



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