Hey, have y’all heard Bruce Lee’s lost interview with Pierre Berton? If you have, did you catch the part where Bruce Lee low key dissed Tai Chi? He said it was an exercise for the elderly, like a health dance, but not a martial art. Now, you could make the excuse that maybe Bruce Lee just didn’t know much about internal martial arts, but he knew, all you have to do is look at his notes. Bruce knew exactly what he was doing because, well, he wasn’t a big fan of Tai Chi, and I’m going to tell you guys 5 Reasons why Bruce Lee actually hated Tai Chi at one point in his life.
What’s up y’all? My name is Prince, and this is Goldenbell Training where it’s my goal to help you all become better martial arts athletes. We’re continuing with our Interesting Facts about Bruce Lee series where I’m going to give you the 5 Reasons why Bruce Lee hated Tai Chi.
Now, really quick, I want to back track a bit and tell y’all how this topic got on my radar. So, every 2-3 years this story will resurface about this secret recording of Bruce Lee’s phone conversation with his student Daniel Lee. One of the things they discussed is this fight that happened in Macau that could be considered the first Tai Chi vs MMA exhibition fight. In that fight, 53 year old Tai Chi Master, Wu Gongyi fought Chen Kefu, a 34 year old practitioner of White Crane Kung Fu, Judo, and Boxing. Like I said, this could be considered the first Tai Chi vs MMA fight.
The fight was called in the second round after the Tai Chi master broke the MMA guy’s nose, and the MMA guy bloodied the Tai Chi master’s lip. The fight would go on to change the attitude towards studying Kung Fu in Hong Kong at the time, and it’s what started all the rooftop battles that you hear so many Bruce Lee fanboys brag about when the topic of Bruce Lee’s nonexistent fight record comes up. Like I said, this story comes up every 2-3 years, and ever since Xu Xiadong knocked out Wei Lei and a few other guys claiming to be Kung Fu masters, people use this as some claim that Bruce Lee called out all of the fake martial arts people as being cowards and therefore, it’s further proof that Tai Chi is a fake martial art. The problem is that Bruce Lee just really didn’t like Tai Chi when he was younger, and his dislike started at the very beginning with his daddy issues when he was growing up in Hong Kong.
So, a few years back, I was having a conversation with one of my Kung Fu teachers, and I mentioned something about wanting to combine internal martial arts with Jeet Kune Do. My teacher quickly dismissed the idea, and he told me that it wouldn’t work because Bruce Lee didn’t have the temperament for Internal Martial Arts. He went on to say that Bruce Lee’s father tried to teach him Tai Chi, but he stopped because Bruce just didn’t have the patience.
This was the first time I’d ever heard of Bruce Lee’s father, Lee Hoi-Chuen, ever studying Tai Chi, but it turns out that what my teacher said was true. Bruce Lee’s father DID study Tai Chi. Recall that Bruce was born during World War II, and Hong Kong was mostly occupied by the Japanese at that time. This was a rough time to be living in Hong Kong, and Bruce’s father had not yet made it as a big-time actor. It was actually Lee Hoi-Cheun’s refusal to make propaganda films for the Japanese that led to him becoming one of the top actors in Hong Kong after the war ended.
Well, when Bruce turned 7, his father began to take Bruce with him to his Tai Chi classes at King’s Park. Bruce’s father thought it would be good for his health, and also a way to treat Bruce’s hyperactive behavior. You’ll have to check out this other video in my Bruce Lee series to get more details on Bruce’s bad behavior when he was a little kid.
So, when Bruce was asked about the morning Tai Chi classes, he said that he enjoyed the time with his father, but he got tired of Tai Chi quickly. He said it was no fun for a kid being with a bunch of old men, and as he was getting into more fights with other kids in the neighborhood, and at school. So, he found it useless for the fighting that he was doing.
Later, Bruce’s relationship with his father would not be so good. Bruce describes his teenage years as having an absentee father. Like I said, Lee Hoi-Chuen became one of Hong Kong’s biggest actors following the war and the end of the Japanese occupation. With the huge increase in income, Lee Hoi-Chuen took up the hobby that many affluent men had during that time – smoking opium. Well, it turns out that one of Lee Hoi-Chuen’s biggest roles was in a play about 2 opium addicts. So, every night that that play was running, Lee Hoi-Chuen was on stage with one of his best friends getting high for real.
Eventually Bruce’s dad would kick his opium addiction, but it really put a strain on their relationship when Bruce was a teenager. As it turned out, Bruce acted out during a public demonstration being given by a Tai Chi master. The Tai Chi master was demonstrating his iron body skill by picking people out of the crowd to punch him in the stomach so that he could demonstrate his ability to take a hard hit without getting injured.
Well, Bruce lept onto the stage to participate in the demonstration. As soon as the demonstration started, the Tai Chi master raised his shirt for Bruce to punch him in the stomach, but instead, Bruce cracked the guy in the ribs, sending the guy crumbling to the ground.
When Bruce recalled the story later, he believed that he actually did crack that guy’s ribs. He said he got tired of seeing those Tai Chi masters leading demonstrations all of the time trying to impress the young guys in the audience. And in a way, the Tai Chi masters trying to impress people in public was a lot like his dad who had this persona as this big time actor, family man, and a true Patriot, but he really spent most of his time at home in an opium bed with a friend or in an opium fueled haze when he was away from the spotlight. So, cracking the Tai Chi guy in the ribs, in a way, was Bruce acting out feelings towards his dad, at that time.
Well, it was Bruce’s acting out and all of the trouble he was getting into at school, which I discussed on another video, that would eventually result in him being sent to America. Bruce eventually ended up in Seattle, Washington to finish up his high school. When he wasn’t busy with school, or working for Ruby Chow in her restaurant, Bruce was hanging out at the Seattle Chinese Youth Club participating in his 2 favorite activities; dancing, and studying Kung Fu.
Bruce’s dad hooked him up with his friend, Fook Yeung, to be sort of a mentor to Bruce. Fook Yeung was also a member of the Chinese Opera, and his most famous role had been as the Monkey King. I mentioned in another video that Bruce was a big fan of Sun Wukong as a child. What this meant for Fook Yeung was that he had to have been an incredible athlete, and he studied a lot of different Kung Fu styles. Under Fook Yeung, Bruce was exposed to Eagle Claw, Praying Mantis, Red Boat Wing Chun, and Taijiquan. Now, of those arts, Bruce was more fascinated with Fook Yeung’s Praying Mantis skills, and he added the Red Boat material to his Wing Chun practice.
One of the things that Bruce never talked about was Fook Yeung’s Tai Chi skills, or how the internal development from Tai Chi complimented those other styles. It leads me to believe that Bruce didn’t really understand Tai Chi at that time, and he went about trying to develop internal skills by simply working harder at becoming a better athlete.
Now, according to one of Fook’s students, Bruce spent about 7 years learning under Fook. And I’m not sure about that claim, but it’s possible that this was under some informal arrangement because that 6 or 7 year mark, it puts Bruce in Oakland. Now, around this time, Bruce would have had about 3 schools; 1 in Seattle, 1 in Oakland, and in Los Angeles that were teaching Jun Fan Gung Fu, or Jun Fan Kickboxing.
Bruce has made a bit of a name for himself by this time, and it wasn’t always a good name. What I mean is that Bruce was known to show up at other schools and advertise his school. Sometimes, he was even known to challenge the teachers of those schools.
Beerdy-BruceLeeCentral recently posted a video about Bruce Lee showing up to Karate dojos to challenge the teachers, but it wasn’t only the Karate dojos where this happened. Bruce also visited a few Kung Fu classes in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and, well, things didn’t always work out well for the Little Dragon.
On one occasion, Bruce Lee visited the school of Kuo Lien Ying, and he was thrown out of the building. I heard about this 13 years ago, and the way that I read it was this guy was practicing across the street from master Kuo’s school. He said,”I’ll never forget the time I saw Bruce Lee come flying across the street.” And I’m guessing that most of y’all have no idea who Kuo Lien Ying is, and if you do, then you probably know me in the real world, or one of my friends, or teachers from my Tai Chi lineage.
My Tai Chi teacher’s teacher, Henry Look, was one of master Kuo’s students. Kuo was one of those guys who should have a movie about him. I could do an entire video on master Kuo, but I’m going to keep it simple here. This guy had some Tai Chi skills that were borderline supernatural in his ability to Fajin with pretty much any part of his body.
Now, if you don’t know what I mean by Fajin, just think of the One inch punch. Kuo could do that with any part of his body, and it sounds like Bruce Lee may have bumped into master Kuo and got an up close demonstration of Kuo’s ability to hit with any part of his body.
Now, this incident with Kuo is big because Bruce had this embarrassing situation with Kuo, but then one of the biggest events in his life was because of one of Kuo’s students. So, think for a second – besides the movies, Jeet Kune Do, the one inch punch, and all of that stuff that we associate with Bruce Lee, what is the biggest event in Bruce’s life that everyone still talks about to this day?
That would be the fight with Wong Jack Man. That fight was at the center of 2 movies, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and the more recent, Birth of the Dragon. I know what most people believe about the fight, but what you heard isn’t true. What the movies told isn’t true. Bruce Lee didn’t fight Wong Jack Man to free a bunch of bar girls from the Triads, and they also didn’t fight for Bruce to have the right to teach Kung Fu to outsiders. They fought because of Tai Chi. Well, more like because of a Tai Chi student’s hurt ego.
Remember the name Kuo Lien Ying? I literally just talked about how Bruce got humiliated when he was thrown out of his school. Well, master Kuo had a student named David Chin. And David Chin passed last October, and some of my friends actually knew him. I’m saying this because David Chin is responsible for the Wong Jack Man fight. This story could be a video in itself, and it probably will be, but for now, I will just say that David Chin was so pissed off at Bruce Lee’s arrogance that he wanted to respond to what many people felt was an open challenge. David wanted to fight Bruce himself, but it was decided that Wong Jack Man would be the person to face Bruce. David Chin actually delivered the challenge letter to Bruce, and he was one of the few people to actually witness the fight.
Of the other 3 people who were involved in setting up the fight, I believe that all of them eventually became Tai Chi teachers, that’s if they weren’t already studying Tai Chi. And I should mention that Wong Jack Man eventually also became a Tai Chi master in the Bay area, and the one time I ever read him talking about the fight with Bruce, he said something along the lines of his Bruce might still be alive had he embraced the training philosophy of the internal martial arts a little bit earlier.
I mean, so there you have it – those 5 Reasons why Bruce Lee hated Tai Chi at some point in his life. Now, I keep saying at some point in his life because here’s the thing- when I looked at some of Bruce Lee’s published notes, he lists out the pros and cons of various styles of martial arts. But when he gets to T’ai chi ch’üan, he only says exotic, and he doesn’t list any cons. Something else that’s a bit of a joke in Tai Chi circles- many of the concepts Bruce Lee fans think came from Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do can actually be found in the Tai Chi principles. And the most important point is this- for all the talk about how forms are dead and a waste of time, Bruce Lee practiced the Tai Chi forms he learned from his father everyday, according to Dan Inosanto.
So, I think Bruce had a love/hate relationship with T’ai chi ch’üan, but as he became a father and grew a little older, he grew to appreciate the art a little bit more. Real quick, I have had a lot of people asking me to comment on the cocaine letters thing that were uncovered not long ago. I have started working on that video, but I have some other videos that I need to finish first. So, give me about a week or two because I have some interesting stories to tell around Bruce Lee’s death and how it relates to the cocaine letters. And if you’re watching and I already have that video up, you may go check that video out! What are you waiting for?
Also, if you haven’t seen this video on how William Cheung was the reason why Bruce started training Wing Chun, you might want to check that one out too! But hey, y’all keep training, remember to breathe, and I’ll see you on the next video!
Watch The Video Below! 👇