Our four-part archival interview with the late Ted Wong explores the first-generation student's life after Bruce Lee, the gifts his master left behind and what it means to truly practice JKD as a way of life.

Editor's Note: The interview from which this segment is adapted was originally printed in the May 2008 issue of Black Belt. (You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here). At the time, interviewer Bob Landers wrote, it was "fitting for Ted Wong, the man many consider the foremost authority on Bruce Lee’s art, to go on the record." During the course of his interview with Ted Wong — who, sadly, passed away on November 24, 2010 — Bob Landers' goal was to "ask the questions that [had been] on the minds of martial artists but that [hadn't] been addressed by a person of Ted Wong’s clout."


Ted Wong, age 70 at the time, was still evolving in his physical and intellectual understanding of JKD and still "tirelessly toured the world, educating students on the finer points of Bruce Lee’s legacy and honoring the memory of his teacher and friend." And so it is, through revisiting classic interviews such as this, that Black Belt honors the memory of Bruce Lee's student and friend — and its own Hall of Fame's 2006 Man of the Year — Ted Wong.

You were present at many of James Coburn and Steve McQueen’s lessons — any interesting stories there?

On occasion, I was with Bruce during their sessions. James Coburn was more philosophically oriented. Bruce could be very philosophical, and I think this was the main draw for James. I saw more of Steve McQueen. One time Bruce took me to Steve’s house in Westwood, Los Angeles. His house was built like an 18th-century castle. We would work out in the big courtyard, which had sandstone rock with a rough surface. Steve tripped and cut open his big toe, and there was this big piece of flesh hanging there. It was a bloody mess, and Bruce said we’d better stop. Steve said, “No, let’s keep on training.” Steve was tough and very physically oriented.

Joe Lewis once said you were an old and close friend of his and the only student of Bruce Lee’s he ever met while Bruce Lee was alive.

Quite often Joe Lewis would come to train with Bruce [while] I was there. Joe was an excellent martial artist and the top tournament fighter at that time. Bruce was working with him on how to improve his technique for tournaments, so sometimes I would work with him. Usually when Joe would come for training, he was very serious, but sometimes he’d be in a joking mood and we’d have a little fun. Later on, Joe became the full-contact champion. Some 20 years after Bruce passed away, Joe and I connected again, taught some seminars together and became very good friends.

After Bruce Lee passed away, you must have had a void in your life. How did you go about putting JKD together to the degree that you have?

For me, it wasn’t easy continuing his art after he passed away because I had lost a teacher and wasn’t sure which way to go. Fortunately, I had my good friend Herb Jackson, who was also a longtime student of Bruce Lee, so we worked together on what we’d learned — mostly physical techniques. I managed to stay with what I learned from Bruce and never looked into other arts. I also began to research his writings. It took me about 15 years to really understand what jeet kune do was all about and even more time to develop my skill. I really put a lot of time into it. Bruce left behind a lot of information, which served as a road map, but you have to study it and work at it to make it all come together. Through teaching for the past 15 years, I learned a lot about JKD and myself.

In your studies, did you discover things that Bruce Lee never taught you?

Having spent as much time as I have — 30 to 40 years — studying jeet kune do, I discovered many things in the art itself which Bruce never taught me. These are things within the structure of jeet kune do. Innovation is about understanding the inner workings [of the art]. When you understand this, you can further simplify. Everything I learned wasn’t from an outside source; it was inside JKD. Any discoveries I made were already contained within the art as Bruce designed it. Bruce’s notes and writings provide a road map, so by sticking to his principles, it’s still jeet kune do.

Have you ever heard the term “jeet kune do lite”?

I heard of it back in 2001. What this particular JKD teacher meant was that most people were teaching a watered-down version of JKD. He was saying that people were over-commercializing JKD, kind of like a fast-food version of it. He was implying that people were motivated by greed, etc.

Some people charge from $2,000 to $4,000 for a two- to five-day course, after which the participants are certified as instructors.

I think Bruce Lee would turn over in his grave knowing people charge that kind of money for so little training and then promote people to be instructors of his art. The practice is absurd and motivated by greed. It takes years of training and practice to understand the art of JKD and be able to teach. If an instructor certifies someone after just one seminar, it shows a lack of integrity and respect toward the art and the martial arts in general.

What was Bruce Lee’s greatest gift to you?

I received so much from him; by nature, he was a giver, not a receiver. He spent all his life giving of himself and of his knowledge. I didn’t realize until many years later the magnitude of what I received from him. It took me many years to understand his art and realize that his art doesn’t just apply to martial arts; it applies to how you conduct yourself in all aspects of life. What I learned from his teaching — efficiency and other things — led to self-confidence, self-reliance and self-sufficiency. These are the greatest gifts I received from him.

Bruce Lee has been gone a long time. Do you still miss him?

Oh, yes. I miss him, but at the same time, he’s still here [even though] he’s out of sight physically. When I teach, read his notes or practice, I feel like he’s there with me. Of course, I miss his physical self, but I feel his presence. Even now, he’s still here teaching me.

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

About the Author: A longtime student of the late Ted Wong, Bob Landers teaches a jeet kune do group in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Related Martial Arts Books, E-Books,
DVDs and Video Downloads

Bruce Lee: The Evolution of a Martial Artist

Black Belt Magazine: The Bruce Lee Collection

Tao of Jeet Kune Do: Expanded Edition

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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