Jim DeMile Interview - Meeting Bruce Lee

Joined: July 16th, 2003, 11:43 am

December 12th, 2012, 8:57 pm #1

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December 13th, 2012, 10:53 am #2


Joined: July 16th, 2003, 11:43 am

July 1st, 2018, 3:24 pm #3

Interview Conducted By Paul J. Bax

James DeMile was one of Bruce Lee's inner circle of students while he lived in Seattle. As a Bruce Lee historian, I have read countless interviews with Mr. DeMile that have covered topics such as how he met Bruce Lee and their many adventures together. In this interview, I am revisiting some of Mr. DeMile's older talks about Bruce Lee in hope of clarifying a few issues that have been on my mind and hopefully on the minds of other Bruce Lee fans over the last few years.

PB: Do you feel Bruce Lee ever found happiness? 

JD: My personal opinion, No. The more famous he became the more he closed the world around himself. He became very paranoid. The people I spoke too who were around Bruce just before he died said he was becoming kind of weird. Distrustful, forgetful and was losing weight. There was not any end to his inner search for the answers to who, what and why he existed. Becoming the best fighter was only a stop over on a longer journey that could not be reached. He wanted to be the best Asian actor, director, producer and....and....and....

PB: You once mentioned Joe Lewis in regard to a conversation you had with Dan Inosanto in which Danny claimed that during a workout session with Bruce Lee that Lewis "could not do anything." Can you expound on this?

JD: It is hard to recall the exact conversations that took place many years ago. But this was the gist of the talk. Danny had seen Bruce Spar with Joe and Chuck Norris and said he would neutralize everything they tried. His ability to close, trap and shut down any attack was amazing. I did not doubt this since I had had personal experience with his skills. Bruce was a street fighter, and they were tournament players. There is a definite difference between the two. I have always been more than happy to explain the differences to those who think that winning trophies and smashing heads is the same thing.

PB: In another interview, you once said Lee "could have beaten anyone regardless of size and strength." With martial artists reaching new levels in training, do you think Lee would have the same superiority over today's fighters as he did back when you knew him? 

JD: Yes. The reason is what he did and how he did it. Today's fighter is bigger and stronger, yet really does much of the same thing when fighting. It is difficult to explain in writing, but easy when doing it in person. A large part of the problem in communicating Bruce's skills is that most people do not understand what a street fight is. It is not a tournament, not UFC or K1 or the Sabaki challenge. It is Neanderthal. It is no quarter and the only goal is to really hurt or kill the opponent. It is stupid and mindless, yet happens everyday. Bruce had two levels of action: two seconds or less or play. Meaning the fight was over in a blink or he played cat and mouse because he had no respect for the person's skills. I do not care how strong you are, what rank you are, what style you are, if you cannot see it coming you cannot stop it. If, at the other end of that invisible movement was the floating punch, then it was over before it began.

PB: Robert Yeung, a Wing Chun instructor, once provided you with insight into the art. Tell us about Mr. Yeung. Did he provide insight into Lee's art of Wing Chun that Lee possibly neglected to share?

JD: Robert Yeung was a Wing Chun purist. He lived and breathed Wing Chun. He was the first one in line to defend the honor of Wing Chun. He came to visit me, where I was teaching in Honolulu, to find out who this guy was that said he was teaching wing Chun. He really came to challenge me. He watched my class and approached me afterward and asked me what I was teaching. I said "Wing Chun". Without a smile he said "No your not". Surprised, I asked why not. He said, "You are using the terms of Wing Chun, but not doing the techniques correctly. I found this an interesting statement since I had never known anyone but Bruce to practice Wing Chun. He told me he had trained in Yip Man's school in Hong Kong. At this point I think Robert became aware that I meant no disrespect, but was just ignorant as to what Wing Chun was. We sat down and I explained my training with Bruce and his use of the terms in our training. Robert explained that Bruce's Wing Chun training was limited since he only trained for three years. Although very skilled in general applications he felt Bruce lacked insight into the true art of Wing Chun. Bruce was not really interested in Wing Chun; he was only interested in fighting. Robert felt this is why Bruce did things so different. He was very focused and only gleaned out the techniques and concepts that he felt had value for him. Bruce's later teaching in America reflected this thought, since Bruce always related to fighting when evaluating a technique or concept. He would teach a technique for a month a suddenly drop it in favor of something else. Robert felt Bruce deserved a lot of credit for his creative insight to the art of fighting, however, Robert was only interested in the art of Wing Chun and assumed that Bruce used Wing Chun as a springboard or starting point for his own discoveries.

PB: Bruce returned from his first trip from HK and it is said he was devastated because his progress was "zip." After that you stated he started on a path to revolutionize the martial arts. 

JD: A tricky thought here. His progress was zip because he was still doing what they were doing, only they had more years of training than he had and therefore he was less skilled. He finally realized he would never catch up with them, since they were also continuing to train. The answer was to change and discover ways to beat what they were doing. This is when he entered his conceptual phase. 

PB: Did you ever meet Lee's Hong Kong classmates/instructors such as William Cheung, Hawkins Cheung and Wong Shueng Leung and if so, how did their skills compare to Bruce Lee? 

JD: I never met any of the three, however I know people who knew them well. William Chung cannot be compared to the Bruce Lee we all knew. William's memory of Bruce was the young punk kid who looked up to him. Yet from everything I have seen and heard, William stayed the same, whereas Bruce evolved dramatically. I have seen videos of William and was not impressed with his skill and application. 

PB: It seems every era of Lee's students seem to think he was at a point of evolution over the last. But for someone like myself, who has read countless interviews over the years, it seems Bruce already had a lot his advanced methods while in Seattle. Your thoughts? 

JD: Bruce evolved all through his short life. However, I believe, in those first few years, Bruce discovered his personal answers to be the best fighter. Once discovered, he filed them away and began his quest to create the best martial arts system. His belief that a fight should not take over two seconds was basic to his discoveries. The longer the fight, the more chance for luck to come into play. Bruce wanted to control the outcome, not hope that he was going to be lucky. One of the most important concepts that Bruce shared with me was that you could become a master of a few techniques, but never a lot. He felt that if you could define the elements of a fight and design techniques to directly overwhelm them, then you were developing the ultimate system. If the total list of techniques did not exceed ten, then becoming a master of them was very realistic. I have followed this thought, both in my teaching (the tool pouch mentality) and in my own training. I am a good teacher and know my material well, but my students often become better than me in many elements of Wing Chun Do. But, for my own purposes, I know less than 10 techniques that I have total confidence will wipe out anyone I should have to fight. Anyone. Not bragging, just confident. In my demonstrations I try and share this concept so people will have some insight as to why Bruce was so effective in his survival skills. 

PB: Bruce used to train quite a bit with firearms. Can you expound on this.

JD: Bruce liked to fire guns. He and Leroy Garcia used to do a lot of shooting. However, I do not believe Bruce "trained" with guns.

PB: Explain Lee's "spring load" concept.

JD: A critical element of Bruce's ability to trap and control an opponent. His "spring load" was like a bad smell you could not get rid of. Once he touched you, no matter how you twisted or turned you could not get away from him. The application of his load was to put you into a weak position or angle, keep you there, while he thumped on your head.

PB: Bruce Lee once told you, "Why should I teach someone to beat me?" This was while he was still in Seattle, correct? Please explain.

JD: A very, very important statement and easily understood by anyone who wanted to be the best, developed a way to achieve it and then realized that if you showed it to someone, they would improve on it, and then beat you. The reason I broke away from Bruce's classes in Jun Fan was that he left out pieces of the puzzle that made everything work. He de-emphasized the centerline, closed Bi-jong and spring energy. He continued this way of teaching on into JKD. Bruce could make Jun Fan and JKD work, because he had the basics. In all the years I have known people who trained in anything Bruce taught in his later periods, I have never known them to use the basic concepts as Bruce applied them. This includes Danny Inosanto. I do not mean this in a negative way, only that I feel Bruce cheated a lot of people by leaving out important details he used himself.

PB: You once stated in an article that, "Bruce never taught the applied concept of the surge punch because he felt to do so would invite someone to beat him." Has this punch become more widely taught in recent years?

JD: You get back to the two second or less concept. Bruce knew that if you had a single punch that would bring down anyone, then it could be used against him. The punch seems to be more exposed; yet I find the application is still missing. Being able to hit hard and being able to hit your target are two different things. 

PB: Lee once told you, "If a person learns my punching and closing techniques that's all they need to know. Along with the element of surprise, you can just leap in like a bolt of lightening and blow anyone away regardless of his rank or style." In today's world of grappling related arts, do you feel Lee could still pull off his advanced punching techniques? 

JD: Without a doubt. You must remember that most grappling arts are willing to leap in and take a punch in order to take the opponent down. In most cases this can work. Bruce was like a shadow that always seemed to disappear, no matter how fast you attacked. He would hit you at angles. He could dislocate your jaw, crush your temple, crack your clavicle or spit a muscle, all in less than a blink. While you were rushing, all protected, he would redirect your energy, spring load your awkward position, then fire at any number of targets.

PB: Can you expound more on the hypnosis you taught Lee and how he combined that with meditation?

JD: Bruce did not like the term hypnosis, but felt that it was a much faster way to access the subconscious than conventional meditation. Hypnosis and meditation both have the same intent. To travel within, and use the inner mental potentials to accelerate training. My input was to teach him self-hypnosis and how to develop suggestions in the areas he was concerned.

PB: I am confused as to Lee's sharing of how to use the one-inch punch. Many claim to have been taught the punch yet you once said he only taught it to you. Are you saying you are the only person to your knowledge that he taught the punch to in Seattle, including Glover and Kimura? 

JD: I do not want to beat on my own drum, but Bruce did not teach me the one-inch punch. It was he and I that developed it. That is why I know so many details that make the punch work. In my apartment, we went over and over ways to hit at close range. Robert Yeung said Wing Chun had a long range floating punch, but nothing at one or two inches. Bruce knew of the Wing Chun punch but wanted something that would fit into his close-in trapping techniques. Since I had been a boxer we experimented with the punching action and then explored different ways to add power. They were two separate elements. The punching action was actually the easy part; it was how to generate the explosive power at an inch or less. Once we accomplished a marriage between the two, Bruce insisted I tell know one. This included Jesse and everyone else in the early group. It was no big deal to me. Jesse spent a lot of private time with Bruce and I am sure knows things the rest of us don't. I honestly forgot about the punch for many years. I never heard anything from Jun Fan or JKD regarding the punch. Only years later, in the early 70's, did I hear it mentioned. Bob Wall was on TV in Honolulu talking about being in a recent movie with Bruce. He said that Bruce showed him this punch and then he went on to demonstrate it. I was totally blown away. I called the station and asked Bob to stop by. He did and I asked him to demonstrate the punch. He hit me. I told him to hit me again, only as hard as he could. It rocked me, but I did not feel the internal roll of energy that I knew was part of the punch. Bob asked me to hit him. I put a phone book to his chest and knocked him across my club and into a wall. He was stunned. He said, "That was unbelievable, you should write a book on that." And that is how the "Bruce Lee One and Three Inch" Power Punch book originated. Over the years I have run across many instructors who profess to know the punch and have never felt one who had the internal reactions of the original punch. I have taught it to thousands of people, so there has to be a lot of people who can do it.

PB: Recently, THE JUN FAN JEET KUNE DO NUCLEUS dissolved, as did THE JKD SOCIETY over a decade ago. Do you feel it is a lost cause for Lee's students to try and organize an association to disseminate his teachings?

JD: Yes. There is not one voice, but many, and yet none of these know what Bruce really meant in his thoughts and teachings.

PB: Jesse Glover's brother, Mike Lee, has been rumored to be one of Lee's most gifted students. Did you know Mike and would you agree with the assessment regarding his abilities?

JD: Mike was very good. I remember him as being very young and into running when I trained with Bruce. I know his brother Jesse worked with him a lot. I am unaware of just how much Bruce worked with Mike, so I cannot really make an assessment of him.

PB: There has been a lingering rumor that you and Bruce had a falling out in your friendship at one time. Is this true and if so please explain the circumstances and if you two remained friends after he left for Oakland.

JD: It was not a rumor. It was true. It was my fault. After I broke away from regular classes I would go down and visit Bruce in his underground club on King Street. After one of his classes I was talking to some of the students and they asked why I had stopped training. I mentioned that I felt Bruce was leaving out important pieces of what made things work. Bruce heard about my comments and when I visited again confronted me, very uptight, and asked why I said what I did. I told him and he said I had no right to make comments to his class. I agreed and apologized. He was slapping some gloves into his other palm and suggested I was challenging him. He was very upset and seemed to be pushing for a fight. I knew I was on very dangerous ground. To fight Bruce when he was calm was insanity, but to do it when he was mad was to invite sudden death. The only amusing memory of the event was that in that period of my life I carried a gun. I had it in my coat pocket and my finger was on the trigger. I calmly thought to myself that if he leaped at me I was going to blow a hole in him. As it was I apologized again, turned and walked out. That was the last time I spoke to Bruce. I have to be honest. Jesse was his friend. Taky was his friend. I was a training part a dummy. I knew Bruce for a few years, went to school with him, ate with him, went to the movies with him and hung out with him and the others. Our common interest was fighting. My personal evaluation of him will stay personal. But, as a fighter, he was the best.

Joined: September 12th, 2011, 9:14 pm

July 3rd, 2018, 3:53 pm #4

Seems like at one point or another, a number of people, for an assortment of reasons, wanted to "blow a hole" in The Little Dragon.