Yes, Bruce Lee Killed Karate!
It’s funny, Bruce Lee came to the martial arts publics attention when he wrote the article ‘The Classical Mess,’ and common opinion was that Bruce Lee killed Karate.
At the time, everybody thought it was a death blow to Karate. It was an attack upon the forms method of teaching. It was the deathblow. It was predicted that karate schools everywhere would pack up and fade away and whimper.
Actually, he drove people into the karate schools at an astounding pace. I don’t believe there has ever been a surge into the martial arts schools like the one he started.
Now, what was the classical mess thing? He was merely in favor of more reality based training.
And, his ideas weren’t bad. Karate guys everywhere read them, liked them, and karate changed.
One of his ideas included less technique and more drilling. I remember learning sticky hands and seeing what he meant. It was great.
Another of his ideas had to do with kicking heavier bags, because people weighed more than the bags that were out there at the time. That was another fine idea. And, today we have heavier bags.
The main thing, however, was for the student to wake up, to be aware in the moment, not to be bound by the things he was learning, and by the limitations of practicing a static technique. In this one, he was right, and he was wrong.
He was right, the Karate student does have to wake up. He has to be in the moment. But, the idea that form training doesn’t lead there is in correct. When one does forms one is building a circuit in the body and mind. Eventually, once one has practiced the circuit long enough, it suddenly disappears.
It’s true, practicing a technique until it is a circuit, and then further, and the circuit just disappears, and the student is left with…open eyes.
Now, one could argue that Bruce didn’t understand this, but he had practiced in Wing Chun long enough that he should have.
Personally, I think he was just so excited by all the arts he studied, and he was seeing how they all connect together, that he spoke a little too quickly. Considering how much he gave us all, he can be forgiven.
At any rate, as I pointed out, though he disagreed with certain karate training methods, he offered enlightenment that we could change such methods as we needed to. And, in the end, it’s not true that Bruce Lee Killed Karate…he helped it become better.