Saturday, June 01, 2019

What Bruce Lee Taught Us by Badger Johnson

What BL taught us.

Development of short power, with the one and three inch punch. Studied Jack Dempsey and his drop-shift. Knew that the key element of patterns was incorporating the body energy or ground-path and not just arm strength, though didn’t say explicitly. However, also discovered a method of bringing short power just by over development of the forearm muscles and the wrist tilt punch.

Went beyond aphorisms, and flowery sayings, though he did include many from Krishnamurti and Zen sayings. Basically he was one of the first to relate deeper thoughts to personal combat. Others offered thoughts about military goals and tactics or mass combat, like Musashi’s Book of Five Rings and Sun Tzu’s Art of War, but not specifically personal combat.

Emphasized suddenness over sheer strength. Kinetic energy = 1/2 mv² - meaning the mass is much less significant than the velocity.

How to make weak things stronger especially those which are weak even on strong men. Upper back muscles, obliques, forearms, neck, abs, calves. He specifically worked on the bridge arm muscles allowing him to keep his arm raised and not pushed down.

Helped us understand how to analyze what’s important rather than what is showy, though didn’t say how explicitly. Emphasized the individual finding their best methods and abilities.

That hardening a body part is not the apex of MA. Better to harden a body system, such as wrist and forearm power.

It was fairly obvious that he was trying to think outside the box and to see outside the box.

Helps show us the path to self-coaching. Prompted people to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses, and to understand their limitations.

Mentally and physically explained how the build up was like a pyramid, with a base layer and a diamond-like pinnacle. Each level required the build up of the previous level, ending in a sharp point, beyond what might be possible without base building.

Adding nutrition and weight training and cross training even more than it was emphasized before.

How to find the best in other systems and then incorporate into your system.

He was not successful in getting across the ‘my forte may not be your forte’ - people just wanted to copy him.

Rather than tell us outright his secrets he dropped hints which made it worth looking deeper. Sometimes it’s better to hint than to just tell everything. IF you tell everything people undervalue it.

Concepts like ‘Fighting Without Fighting’, ‘Absorb What Is Useful’, ‘Having No Limitation As Limitation’, and other Zen-like sayings were incorporated into the body of knowledge for people to look more deeply into, giving the method more profound implications, and not just a gymnastic routine. (see the essay about the concept of Fighting Without Fighting)

Some sayings such as ‘Empty Your Cup’ are well-known but were not necessarily applied to combat. ”Obey the principles without being bound by them.” is also a good one, showing that to become great one must follow the principles, then, at the top levels of skill, ultimately break them. Interestingly some of his sayings change as one grows in mastery. ‘Hacking Away at the Non-essential’ may have a different meaning to beginners than to those with higher skill.

While others were saying to look for hidden meaning in fixed patterns he said ‘The truth is outside all fixed patterns’.

One thing that it’s important to do is not just to repeat his sayings but delve into the meaning, origin and deeper levels of the concept.

He figured out how to incorporate things like non-telegraphic action, non-intention movement into his fighting style, and using the ‘fast close’, make them actually work in practice. How do you do non-intention? You catch yourself doing a non-intention move and then reverse engineer it, and break it down for study. You can’t ‘intend’ to do non-intention. Once you have non-intention capability, you can then begin to predict or anticipate others’ movements before they themselves realize they’re doing them. This is one of the basis for ‘Attack by Drawing’ tactics.

He brought several fencing concepts into combat, among them, the ‘Five Ways of Attack’. He should have said “there may be more ways of attack than just five but you have to find them”. (see the essay on ‘the expansion of the five ways of attack’)

He taught that there were concepts such as “fitting in” to the opponent’s moves, not just opposing them. He emphasized the need for various types of broken rhythm, timing and tempo. You don’t use broken rhythm you break the opponent’s rhythm.

Not normally mentioned was that he had the concept of stage presentation or stage magic, or setting up the opponent to fail and himself to succeed. He used this whenever possible to give him a better than even chance to effect his moves and concepts. Such things even work in actual conflict, for example putting the Sun at your back and putting the glare into the opponent’s vision.

In movies, went from the endless superficial blocking and parrying to dynamic short fights.

Concept of how to go from zero to sixty in aggression or the use of a kill word and use of self-hypnosis to access the subconscious.

Realized that hardening body parts is worthless without a delivery system. You may have a hand grenade but if you can’t deliver it to the target it’s not worth much.

May have realized, though didn’t say directly, that aliveness, i.e. footwork, timing, resistance and energy were important aspects to have and to train. He did talk about all of them though didn’t give an overall concept.

He realized that for him his talent may have been in fighting but it’s not a very good way (at the time) to make a living so he went into films, instead. The lesson here is that being obsessed with fighting or combat or self-defense is kind of a ‘trap’. You can only sustain your edge or prowess or alertness for a short time. A fighter’s life-span is limited. Using a ‘firing solution’ (striking or engaging) is one of the last best options one should use to resolve conflict.

A few things he had not yet developed:

1. Grappling flow and ground fighting flow - his grappling method was more of a collection of tricks than an understanding of rolling and guard and mount.

2. Mobile kicking - he didn’t have a complete concept for ‘mobile kicking’ which is using ‘unweighting’ and a high chamber position to bridge the gap. There is a sequence in Return of the Dragon where he bridges the gap using a short skip step against Bob Wall. But he doesn’t conceptualize this in his writings. Though he only gains a few inches with that kick it uses the principle of dynamic chambering and unweighting to close the gap and land the technique. I don't believe he understood it as a 'concept' since he had not incorporated it into his other kicks and was still doing the step up and chamber which is intrinsically slower.

Real-time of the 4 kicks in this scene

Slow motion on the initiation of the 1st, 2nd and 4th kicks

3. Transitions - may have had entering to trapping to grappling but not so much a concept of grip fighting, pummeling and sprawl. He had not fully incorporated the various methods of wrestling take-downs.

4. Did he have an understanding of or a method of testing for durability, or resistance to punishment? We don’t know if BL had a good chin or was fragile. He had small bones and a small frame.

Please check out Badger Johnson's other essays:


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