I became interested in the martial arts when I was in 8th grade.
Not athletic or in any way interested in sports, I needed to do something physical. I was skinny and round shouldered and afraid of my own shadow.
Then, one day, I noticed my neighbor practicing Tae Kwon Do forms in his backyard. This was back in 1964, when the oriental martial arts were more of a mystery. Bruce Lee had yet to make his first kung-fu flick, and Black Belt Magazine had yet to be published.
My neighbor, Joe Capella, had studied Aikido while stationed in Japan, and Tae Kwon Do while in Washington (from the famous Jhoon Rhee). Joe was very spiritual in his approach to the arts, and would practice in his backyard.
I asked him to teach me, and at first he declined. I weathered him down, and he finally agreed, although he never seemed enthused. He decided to teach me the old fashioned way, maybe as a test, maybe just to discourage me from bothering him. During the first month, all I learned was how to stand and walk in various Tae Kwon Do pastures. He would also have me meditate near the bushes at sunset, where the mosquitos were most prevalent. If I so much as twitched, I heard about it.
Joe eventually moved away, and I purchased my first martial art book, Korean Karate. This was an excellent introduction into the martial arts. It started my collection of books on as many different fighting styles as I could get my hands on. I was obsessed about learning the martial arts for decades.
I set up a makawara board in my backyard where I kicked and punched for hours, eventually progressing to training my knuckles on cement.
In 1969, I joined a Shorin Ryu class in Middletown, and was trained by Don Gardner and Nick Cordone. Shorin Ryu is an Okinawan style of karate. Very basic in its approach. This went on for about a year, but college studies demanded more and more of my time.
And then something happened that really changed my life. Until this time, I viewed karate as a confidence building art that gave me some physical expercise. I enjoyed the philosophy as well, especially Taoism.
But then Bruce Lee came on the scene. I'm not referring to his television role as Kato, or even his later movies. I'm referring to an article he wrote about liberating yourself from classical gung-fu (he used the Cantonese spelling instead of Kung-fu). It was a real eye-opener. And not just for the martial arts. With this single article, he empowered me to explore the truth about religion, philosophy and the martial arts as well.
And so I started exploring his non-classical gung-fu with serious intent. I studied his Tao of Jeet Kune Do constantly, page by page. I toyed with his ideas in college among a circle of friends. They seemed to work. My punches and kicks became faster, stronger. My ability to move was also improved. I still felt insecure about what I was doing, but the more I studied and tried things out, the more I liked it.
In 1977 I started a small school in Portland where a number of us expiramented with developing speed, power and deception. Four hour classes, twice a week. It was great and very productive. My students developed at a phenomenal rate. I was especially impressed by the women who generated really powerful punches. We had something here.
As most people know, Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do became a cult phenomenon in the world of martial arts. It developed into two major factions, Ted Wong's original Jeet Kune Do, and Dan Inosanto's concepts method (which applied JKD concepts to an eclectic system of mostly Filipino arts). While both these methods are true and good, I was convinced they each missed the central issuefinding truth on your own as an individual. Experimenting. Trying entirely new possibilities. Certainly I was pleased by the results of my students. Previously, I was always a mediocre participant. But as JDD inspired me to find my own way, I gradually excelled. The art I expressed was my own, which to me is the very essence of Jeet Kune Do.
After a short hiatus from teaching, I started a class at the local YMCA, where I taught for 2 years. I had an exceptional bunch of students, and the style became more systematized, although it still focused on the individual student's potential rather than stylistic dogma. The results, as before, were astounding. The motions were more natural, the power explosive, the speed very impressive.
Today these are all just wonderful memories. I work out once in a while in my garage, where I have a heavy bag and weight equipment. Now in my mid-50s, I've lost some of my previous speed, and the kicks just are not what they used to be. But the lessons I learned are still with me. The philosophy of Jeet Kune Do has allowed me to question things and find innovative solutions to problems.