Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun,
Tsun Jo and Brother John (aka Sijo John N Beall)
Story by Sijo John N Beall about the History of Tsun Jo:
While I was training in Karate, Judo and Boxing in Sonoma County California, Bruce Lee had become a mega star in movies. A short time later he died tragically, still a fairly young man. But the seeds of Tsun Jo started before this tragedy happened.
While Bruce was alive, he and his students were far away from where I lived and trained. That all changed one day when I saw a flyer advertising a new martial arts school. The man teaching there had his own modified style of Wing Chun. His name was James DeMile and the style he developed was called Wing Chun Do. James was an interesting guy for sure. He was half Irish and half Filipino and grew up tough in a reformatory near Seattle. As an older youth he led a crew (gang) on one of the hills of Seattle. Eventually he enlisted in the Air Force and became the heavyweight boxing champion for that branch of the armed forces.
James met Bruce Lee after a Kung Fu demo that Bruce was performing for a cultural awareness in Seattle’s Chinatown. Bruce had demonstrated a number of “forms” from a variety of Chinese styles and James made the assumption that that was what Bruce’s fighting method would consist of. The forms were beautiful but James did not think they were direct enough to stand against a boxer/street fighter like himself and basically told Bruce as much. Bruce said: “Go ahead and hit me”. When the street and ring savvy James tried to do that, Bruce trapped his arms and showed James a good look at his fist. That had Never happened before!
James immediately joined the group of guys that Bruce was training with and teaching. They were fighters and martial artists with various backgrounds. Bruce’s first student in that group was Jesse Glover, a champion judoka, who later developed a system he called Non-Classical GungFu. Another of the guys was Ed Hart. A tall guy, Ed was also a skilled Boxer and Judo man who later developed his own style of martial art called The Stuff. Bruce taught them but also used them as training partners to test what he was developing as his personal fighting method, later to become Jeet Kune Do.
And although this has no bearing as far as martial arts goes, it does go far as an interesting story and gives insight into what these guys were like…Jesse told me that Ed had been a race car driver and that he could lose any cop chasing him within three city blocks… and that he could make a car take a right turn at 60mph. With guys like this history is interesting isn’t it?
Anyway, back to our story at hand…
Before coming to Seattle, Bruce had trained in Hong Kong with the now famed Wing Chun teacher Yip Man and, although respectful of his teacher, Bruce considered the style limited. So he took the initiative to modify his own methods and remove the limitations. He saw the artistic nature of fighting and training but knew that actual fighting has little to do with stylistic dogma and set rules. So he experimented and developed, using his early tough students as training partners to test his theories.
After leaving Seattle and moving to Los Angeles, Bruce started to call what he did “Jeet Kune Do”. Jeet Kune means “Intercepting Fist” and “Do” means “Way” So it’s translated as “The way of the intercepting fist.” In Bruce’s demonstrations there were scant examples of the physical use of the Jeet Kune concepts, but for me the very idea of “an attack intercepting the opponent's attack” was the most beautiful fighting concept I had ever considered. By the time I heard about this, I had already experienced having a punch interrupt an incoming strike and legs interrupting kicks. So the concept of interception rang clear and true from my own fighting experience. It only needed the full framework to make it consistent, high percentage, and repeatable. I saw the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do as a foundation for Not Getting Hit…a central tenet of what I would later include in Tsun Jo.
Modifications in the Wing Chun method that James taught included a different method of chi sao or sticking hands. Pressure was used to more easily move with the opponent’s move, rather than react to it. He used a different stance and structure as well as modifications to the striking methods. James was very insightful on subjects such as footwork, reaction time, methods for developing speed and power and trapping engagements. I joined his school and I liked it. I became an Instructor in that system and eventually, with James’s kind blessing, went on to create Tsun Jo.
I also had the opportunity to train with Ed Hart. Ed brought additional grappling moves into focus and teaching, highlighting his opinion that the best fighters are striker-grapplers. In other words, fighters that integrate these two skillsets. These methods were different from what James did. But that's not to say that James and Ed were altogether different. They did have a lot in common. Both were street tough, both boxers, and they were both students in the very early days with Bruce Lee. And I will always be thankful that I trained with both men.
The use of the Jeet Kune principle was also a basis for most of what Tsun Jo is. Strikes intercept, Traps intercept, Legs intercept. I systemized the Tsun Jo training methods for the exact fighting skills needed.
For example, I think of chi sao not as a method of developing reactions but rather as a method of eliminating reactions through the use of pressure and came to call it “pressure control”. With pressure control, it becomes possible to consistently “move with” an opponent rather than simply “react to an opponent.” This seemingly subtle shift turns out to be not subtle at all, but revolutionary. And the speed shift and advantage one gains from this is nothing short of tremendous.
Sight based reaction time is understood and respected in Tsun Jo.
Adaptability is built into all.
Standing locks and chokes materialize naturally and without forcefulness depending on the opponent’s interaction with the time and space available and the pressures of the engagement.
The “parts” of Tsun Jo fit well together, seamlessly (Closing, striking, kicking, pressure control, locking, choking, etc).
Tsun Jo is not a Wing Chun method but without that style many of the moves and elements of Tsun Jo would not exist. Tsun Jo is not boxing but the methods of striking and moving in boxing had a marked influence on Tsun Jo. Tsun Jo is not a kicking style but the kick defense and low kicks in Tsun Jo would never have been developed without the insights provided by the kicking arts. And last but not least, the trapping and Jeet Kune methods would not exist without the contributions of Bruce Lee, James DeMile and Ed Hart.
I think it’s important to recognize all that’s gone before and the contributions made and the teachers that made them. Which is why I chose Tsun Jo, or “faithful descendent” to become our system’s name.
I’m thankful! I'm thankful for what has come before and look forward to the continual growth of what this method is into the future!
Sijo / Brother John