Today we bring a brand new interview with student Bruce Lee you’ve never heard of. Enjoy as Barney Scollan describes his master and ’60.
How did your passion for martial arts begin?
I grew up in Sacramento, California in the 1960s. In my circle of friends, the main forms of entertainment and amusement in those days seemed to revolve around soccer games, beer, school dances, high street drag racing, beer, and trying to attract females. a
All of these activities involved heavy doses of adolescent hormones and immature masculine behaviors that often led to meaningless street fights.
Being a young kid, I was always looking for any advantage I could find to balance the odds in these battles. Around 1962, a movie titled The Manchurian Candidate was released. The plot featured Frank Sinatra fighting a villain who was trained in a strange form of combat which allowed him to smash tables and everything else with his punches. This was my first exposure to karate and I was hooked. Just what I needed to do battle in the streets of Sacramento.
Shortly thereafter, a karate studio opened in the Tracy neighborhood, Kenpo Karate.
I raced the race and introduced myself to Al Tracy, a short, slightly nerdy looking guy with thick glasses. I wasn’t impressed, until I showed a few moves. Fast and powerful I’ve never seen on the street before. I signed up and became one of his first students in Sacramento (he had another school founded in San Francisco).
Karate became my passion and soon I was taking lessons daily. It was interesting that once you became somewhat skilled and confident in your abilities, the desire to fight evaporated greatly.
How did you meet Bruce Lee?
In 1964, Tracy coach, Ed Parker, conducted his first international tournament
Championships in Long Beach, California. Masters and students of many styles came from all over the world to demonstrate and participate.
I was among a group of Sacramento students who entered the “White Belt”???? Category. In those days, sparring was “offline” ???? sports. I was disqualified from my family for kicking my opponent in the thigh during my first game. Anyway, I faced Bruce Lee for the first time in this tournament.
Can you tell us something more about Bruce’s demonstration and why it resonated with you?
Bruce took the floor and showcased many of the most famous martial arts styles with great skill. He then explained why he felt it was impractical for actual combat, which caused more than a little anger among the followers of those methods.
To prove his incredible speed, he would have someone from the audience face him in a defensive position. Bruce was standing about three feet apart and in and out, touching the fellow’s forehead before the subject could raise his arm up to 6 inches to fend off the punch.
It also featured lightning kicks and punches that made most of us shake our heads in disbelief. The two-finger push-ups, and the armed push-up were very impressive. The simplicity of his principles, his style, and his directness made so much sense to me, that he created a number of believers and enemies that night.
I was fortunate to experience the Bruce School in Auckland, can you tell us something about training there?
In the fall of 1964, she began attending the University of California, Berkeley. I learned that Bruce had just opened a school in Auckland and was able to enroll and become one of his first students at that location. The cost was $20 per month for 3 lessons per week.
The school was in a clean, modern building in Auckland. It was a good size room which I believe was once a dance studio. There were rods along one of the walls that we used to extend at the beginning of each class. The daily routine was rather varied, but it always started with stretching, then some exercises. The number of students seems to vary very little from 3 or 4, to as many as a dozen.
The classes were very fun and easy going, as Bruce was constantly explaining theory, clarifying and correcting technique, and telling stories. He would sometimes stand with one leg raised directly above his shoulder, then move to the other, the whole time speaking normally as if anyone could do so effortlessly.
We’ll work on form, balance, speed and endurance. There was a punching bag suspended between two elastic ropes that was used to teach how to hit straight forward from your center which was one of the principles of Wing Chung.
Later the school was moved to James Lee’s garage, also in Auckland. The classes there were much more relaxing and usually ended up in James’s living room afterwards. We’ll discuss everything from martial arts to the best places to eat. Linda Lee was often present with her new baby, Brandon, in a bed in the corner.
During one of these times, Bruce demonstrated his now famous “1-inch punch”???? on me. I was leaning forward, sitting in a soccer-like position with a sofa cushion tucked in front of me. Bruce grabbed his fist an inch away and punched. I flew through the air, hitting and flipping the sofa behind me. My college roommates were watching and grabbed me, saving me from crashing into the large window behind the sofa.
How was James Lee and what was the atmosphere like in his studio?
Bruce would travel frequently during this time, and James Lee would often teach classes in Bruce’s absence. James was more serious than Bruce and the classes were “no-nonsense”. It was very fast and powerful. When I show you something, you pay attention.
Can you remember the main differences between your previous martial arts training in Auckland?
The Jeet Kune Do style was very different from the Kenpo Karate style I was studying. Kenpo used more round punches and a variety of combinations. The kicks were also very varied and often aimed high.
On the other hand, Jeet Kune Do was built on simplicity. Its purpose was to eliminate nonessential movement. The kicks were low and the punches straight and short. It was a little more. Bruce did not preach a daily increase, but a daily decrease. It penetrates what is not necessary.
The combat positions were also very different. Kenpo was based on the traditional “horse”???? Posture, while Jeet Kune Do usually uses a more flexible moving stance.
What are your fondest memories of Bruce Lee? How was socializing with him like?
Bruce was just a pleasure to be around. He had a good sense of humor and was always in a happy state of mind. The tradition of Prussia was to invite his students to lunch on his birthday. A few of us were invited to go with him to a Chinese restaurant in Auckland. I can’t remember the food, but I do remember making jokes and laughing all the way to the restaurant. Bruce had a little Chinese accent and would speak slowly to get the correct pronunciation. There was just something about Bruce telling jokes in such a slow and forceful way that it made them even more entertaining.
When was the last time you saw Bruce?
I graduated from Berkeley and Bruce was on his way to Southern California to pursue his growing film career. I never saw him again, but I followed him as closely as possible through many articles and of course films. I am still amazed at his skill when watching his films after all these years. He was so unique and I didn’t realize at the time how lucky I was to know him.
How did his killing affect you?
Like everyone who knew him or admired his skills and opinions, I was completely shocked when I heard about his passing. His death was an incredible loss to the world. As great as he was and as important as his legacy is in so many ways, I feel like he was just getting started.
Were you contacted with any of his students after his death?
Years later, I moved to Carmel California and opened a home furnishing/antiques store in a historic building built in the 20th century by my wife’s grandfather. One day I noticed a long-haired man of unnatural appearance with a beard and sunglasses in the store who looked familiar. Arena asked him. Are you Steve McQueen? He looked at me like I was an insect and said, “Yes.” Why????
“Because we got the same Sifu” ???? Bruce????
He got ready and said, “Boy, I could definitely use a good workout.” I told him â???? â???????????????????? I have a gym in an old barn. ????
We exchanged techniques and punches, then told stories over lunch. Later, I shower in my house. My mother-in-law was visiting her at the time and I will never forget the look on her face when I walked into the bathroom and found Steve McQueen wearing only a towel.
Have you ever co-wrote your story in Striking Distance by Charles Russo?
I was waiting in a doctor’s office in Carmel, and I noticed an article in San Francisco magazine featuring Bruce Lee. To my surprise, a picture of Bruce I took years ago was the opening photo of
Article – commodity. Since I’ve never shared many photos of Bruce I’ve taken with anyone, I wrote Charles Russo, author of the article to inquire how he obtained them. He explained that he got it from the Bruce Lee Foundation.
A clerk at a photo shop in Carmel apparently stole the negatives when I made copies and sold them to Black Belt magazine or someone else. It turns out that many of my photos have been on the Internet for years without my knowledge. Moral: When you have copied photos of a famous person, don’t brag to the employee about who he or she is!
Anyway, after contacting Charles about my photo in San Francisco magazine, he suggested we get together to discuss my experiences with Bruce and the martial arts scene in those days. We shared ideas and stories, trying to separate fact from fiction, and became good friends in the process.
He did an amazing amount of work and some pretty cool espionage to gather all that information. Most of it would have been lost forever had he not embraced this project, earning the trust and confidence of many key players in the history of the Bay Area military movement. I loved the book and am proud to be such a small part of it.