Tale of Tim Tackett

Black Belt - - Tale Of Tim Tackett -

Part 1 of our ex­clu­sive Q&A with Tim Tackett ran in the Oc­to­ber/November 2018 is­sue of Black Belt. In your ex­pe­ri­ence, what is hold­ing back the growth of jeet kune do in the greater mar­tial arts com­mu­nity? Judg­ing from the pop­u­lar­ity of Bruce Lee, JKD should be the most pop­u­lar art in the world. Bob Bre­mer and I once did a sem­i­nar for about 50 peo­ple. I asked Bob pri­vately how many JKD guys were in the room. He said, “Three.” I said, “Maybe four.” And that’s about what it was. We taught the straight lead punch.

The next year, we went to the same place for a sem­i­nar and asked, “How many peo­ple were here last year?” Most of them raised their hands. We started by cov­er­ing the straight lead again. The fol­low­ing year, the same thing hap­pened. Some­body said, “Sifu, we al­ready know that.”

I said, “No, you don’t. You rec­og­nize it. You have no knock­out power with it yet.” That short­com­ing af­fects peo­ple in a lot of mar­tial arts. In­stead of learn­ing things well enough to be able to use them, they have a lot of tech­niques that could put them in dan­ger. But peo­ple gen­er­ally don’t train like that.

It’s even more of an is­sue in JKD. I have all Bruce Lee’s notes from the Bruce Lee Foun­da­tion — big, thick vol­umes with his work­outs up to a month be­fore he passed away. He was do­ing like four things. All he wanted to be able to do well was just those four things. That’s a dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude than “I want to learn as much as I can.”

I re­mem­ber Bob Bre­mer say­ing, “A guy came in and said he wanted to learn how to do a hook kick, and Bruce said, ‘OK, do it. That’s good. Now do it for 20 min­utes with­out stop­ping.’” That’s a whole dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude to­ward train­ing.

Do you think that some peo­ple are tech­nique col­lec­tors? Yes. Cer­tifi­cate col­lec­tors, too. My fa­vorite ques­tion is, “How long will it be be­fore I can get a cer­tifi­cate to teach JKD?” I an­swer with, “Do you play bas­ket­ball?” “Yeah.” “How long would you have to play bas­ket­ball to be a bas­ket­ball coach?” Why do you think we’ve gone in that di­rec­tion in the mar­tial arts? Peo­ple find prestige in be­ing able to say they’re an in­struc­tor. Prob­a­bly once a week, I’m con­tacted by some sifu in some part of the world who wants me to come over and teach him — or just send him a cer­tifi­cate and he’ll send me $3,000. I al­ways tell them, “The best way to get cer­ti­fied is to learn the JKD we teach. Come to our train­ing camps and learn it.” For peo­ple who may be new to jeet kune do, do you rec­om­mend start­ing with JKD, or first learn­ing a tra­di­tional art and then tran­si­tion­ing to JKD? If you have a young child, take them to taek­wondo for the dis­ci­pline. Judo’s good, too, but there aren’t as many judo schools around. From what I un­der­stand, peo­ple asked Bruce that ques­tion, and his an­swer was to start them in judo and, when they turn 13, to start them in boxing. When they get older, move them to JKD. He didn’t men­tion any other arts. What are the ben­e­fits of Lee’s ap­proach? The kid gets the move­ment, the grap­pling, the fall­ing, the rough­hous­ing and the boxing power. They also learn to roll with punches, which is good for when some­one is try­ing to hit them. Are there any fight­ing arts that make sense for stu­dents to cross-train in to im­prove their JKD? Like boxing? Western fenc­ing for re­ac­tion train­ing and speed. Ba­si­cally, a third of JKD is fenc­ing. The straight lead punch is a thrust in fenc­ing. The ham­mer prin­ci­ple is also sim­i­lar to a fenc­ing thrust. I think Brazil­ian jiu-jitsu would be good, as would catch wrestling. As for stand-up arts, kali is good, as is boxing. And Thai boxing. We do Thai kicks when we train here. You’re of­fi­cially re­tired from teach­ing. When did that hap­pen, and what do you con­tinue to do here in your garage? When I re­tired from school teach­ing in 2000, I con­tin­ued teach­ing JKD. I would go to Europe for sem­i­nars, and I would teach here at our Wed­nes­day Night Group meet­ings. It got kind of pop­u­lar, but then I started think­ing that I needed a break. In April or May of last year, I did my last U.S. camp. I did my last Eu­ro­pean sem­i­nar in Si­cily last November.

But you still have class here on Wed­nes­day nights, right? Jeremy Lynch does most of the teach­ing. Every now and then, I stick my nose in to see how they’re do­ing. (laughs) How many peo­ple are nor­mally here? Six or seven. I bet you’re pretty se­lec­tive about whom you let in. Oh, yeah. We can af­ford to be be­cause we don’t charge any­thing. But we do take do­na­tions so we can buy equip­ment. If you’d never found JKD, where do you think you would be now? And what mar­tial arts–re­lated pur­suit would you have been do­ing for the past few decades? It’s hard to think about that be­cause JKD was so out­side of any­thing I’d ever seen. It was kind of East­ern mar­tial arts but very Western — a third boxing, a third fenc­ing, a third wing chun. There’s a kick from pray­ing man­tis, and there’s a tech­nique from choy lay fut, but JKD was never a mix­ture of 27 dif­fer­ent arts like some peo­ple claim.

That “27 mar­tial arts” thing that’s of­ten said about JKD came from the notes that Bruce left with Dan. There was a list of mar­tial arts: white eye­brow, hs­ing-i and oth­ers. I looked at it and asked, “What is this?” Dan said, “These are the arts Bruce looked at to see how they en­tered and what he could do against them if they en­tered. So he in­ves­ti­gated them.” Any­way, some­body got ahold of that list, and it be­came “what Bruce Lee learned.”

It’s a lot of non­sense. I taught hs­ing-i for years, and I never saw any hs­ing-i in JKD. In tai chi and hs­ing-i, there are these heavy-palm hits. You can get power in one of two ways: the snap of a punch or the weight of a punch. The weight of a punch means you can’t re­cover as fast, so you have to make sure you hit the tar­get. A snappy punch has a faster re­cov­ery. In his notes, Bruce talked about this when he said tech­niques were ei­ther crispy or un­crispy. A hook kick is a snappy kick. A Thai kick is a heavy kick, which means it takes longer to re­cover from. It’s a full­com­mit­ment thing.

At one point in his notes, Bruce talked about com­mit­ment the­ory. If I’m do­ing a crispy punch, I’m com­mit­ting less time to it than when I do an un­crispy punch. And that has, in terms of self-de­fense, a real mean­ing. And it’s easy to an­a­lyze. That the­ory changed a lot of what I do be­cause I re­al­ized how much time I was com­mit­ting to dif­fer­ent tech­niques and, there­fore, what I was leav­ing open. What are your thoughts on the dwin­dling num­ber of first­gen­er­a­tion jeet kune do prac­ti­tion­ers who are able to pass along the lessons they got di­rectly from Lee? There are very few orig­i­nal stu­dents left. Since I was study­ing for about a year and a half when Bruce was still alive, in a way, I’m an orig­i­nal stu­dent. We were do­ing his cur­ricu­lum when he was alive. It’s the same with Chris Kent; he was do­ing it for about three months be­fore Bruce died. I con­sider my­self and Chris one­and-a-half gen­er­a­tion. But of the first gen­er­a­tion, there’s prac­ti­cally no­body left ex­cept Dan Inosanto. And I think Steve Golden is still ac­tive. He oc­ca­sion­ally shows up on a fo­rum. But we just lost Allen Joe and Ge­orge Lee, two of the best guys ever. Taky Kimura is still around, but he’s not do­ing well phys­i­cally. That’s it for the Oakland guys.

There are the Seat­tle guys, but they’re not do­ing the same kind of JKD that we are. They’re all good guys, but the JKD of the Chi­na­town era, as I call it, is dif­fer­ent from the JKD of the Seat­tle era be­cause of the boxing and the foot­work of fenc­ing. In Seat­tle, it was more like mod­i­fied wing chun. What was go­ing on in Oakland was a lot closer to what we do. Do you think that by its very na­ture when it was cre­ated, JKD was des­tined to have a life span that was only as long as the lives of the first gen­er­a­tion and gen­er­a­tion 1.5? Not nec­es­sar­ily. I know some young peo­ple who are still teach­ing it. In some cases, they’re teach­ing out of their garages. It’s hard to teach JKD in a com­mer­cial school be­cause you end up do­ing more kick­box­ing-type stuff. In re­al­ity, you need to fo­cus so much on a few things to make it work right. Nowa­days, if stu­dents don’t leave class with two or three new tech­niques every time, they don’t think it was a good class. Like I said, they rec­og­nize tech­niques but can’t re­ally do them.

Get­ting good in JKD is not about con­stantly learn­ing new tech­niques. It’s about get­ting rid of tech­niques. It’s the painter ver­sus the sculp­tor. That’s hard to do in a com­mer­cial school. In the Chi­na­town school, lots of peo­ple dropped out. Even the guys you’ve heard of

“Get­ting good in JKD is not about con­stantly learn­ing new tech­niques. It’s about get­ting rid of tech­niques. It’s the painter ver­sus the sculp­tor.”

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