He is the senior member of the jeet kune do family and was one of Bruce Lee's closest friends. Bruce took him under his wing and made him his assistant in the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Seattle, Wash. During the years following Bruce's death, Taky Kimura decided to be silent about his training and relationship with the founder of jeet kune do. As a person, Taky Kimura is extremely humble and respectful to his teacher and to the art he received. For almost four decades, Taky Kimura has been teaching the Jun Fan method of gung-fu in his basement. He doesn't advertise for students and he likes to walk softly. As a teacher, he understands his students and supports them in any direction they decide to go. Since 1973 he has taken care of his sifu's grave and keeps it clean by visiting several times a week. "It's not a chore. It's an honor and a privilege. It's a humble way of paying back everything Bruce did for me."
INSIDE KUNG-FU: When did you meet Bruce Lee?
TAKY KIMURA: It was shortly after he arrived in Seattle. I was 38 and almost old enough to be his father. He was 17 years old at that time and came to stay with Ping and Ruby Chow, who were longtime friends of his father and who owned a restaurant where Bruce was supposed to work as a waiter. I met him through Jesse Glover, who was Bruce's first student in Seattle.
IKF: What was your first reaction to him?
TK: He was full of energy and somewhat flamboyant but on the other side he was a typical teenager. He spoke English with a British accent and at that time he stuttered a bit which made it a little bit difficult for him to express himself properly. No one ever kidded him about that because it would have been a disaster! In fact, a good friend of mine stuttered also. I introduced him to Bruce and my friend began to stutter. Bruce was looking at him and began tensing up because he felt my friend was making fun of him. Thank God my friend quickly said, "I stutter too!" Bruce realized the whole situation and we all laughed.
IKF: What was Bruce's art during this time?
TK: His nucleus was definitely the wing chun system, but taught us a modified version of it. Of course, he was familiar with many other Chinese kung-fu styles such as praying mantis, choy lee fut, hung gar, but I think he really identified himself with the wing chun method. The realistic approach to fighting that he used later on to create the art of jeet kune do was taking form within him because he already knew what he felt was the most useful from all these styles.
IKF: Traditionally, Chinese teachers hold back certain methods. Was Bruce this way?
TK: I do believe he kept a lot of things for himself, but I also know that he was very open with me. I understand that the traditional teachers do not teach 100 percent, but that they keep things for themselves in case some student turns on them. I can honestly say that if he felt you were trustworthy, he was very unselfish about his teachings. If you were sincere, honest, and dedicated he would teach you without holding anything back. He didn't care what race or nationality you were either. That attitude brought him some problems because some Chinese masters felt uncomfortable with him teaching non-Chinese people.
IKF: How do you view the art of jeet kune do?
TK: The art of jeet kune do was developed by Bruce while he was living in Los Angeles. I can say that it was the product of many years of martial arts research. Probably because my close relationship with him as a friend, I am the only guy in Seattle that saw the JKD level that he was into whenever he came up here. His approach was very revolutionary in the mid-'60s and many people weren't ready to understand what he was talking about. The training emphasized contact sparring with headgear, gloves, and shin guards — that was something very uncommon then. He was talking about "liberating" the martial artist when a lot of people didn't understand what it meant "to be slave of a style." I can compare the art of jeet kune do to a beautiful sculptured object. The final product is awesome but how did he do it? I think it's important to go through the pieces that he discarded, study them, and learn them to get up to that point because it was an ongoing process of "shedding away the nonessentials." Sometimes there are things that we don't understand today but that will became increasingly clear to us in time. Unfortunately, I have seen the effects of exploitation and inadequacy in jeet kune do and rarely, if ever, do many gain more than just a physical understanding of what the art is all about.
IKF: How important is the material Bruce taught in Seattle in the context of the whole JKD experience?
TK: The principles of simplicity, directness, and efficiency were already his guidelines during his time in Seattle. He was evolving and being very creative. His knowledge was limited at that time but the basic principles of economy of motion, simplicity and directness that he was teaching in Seattle were the same that he taught later on in the Oakland and Los Angeles schools. The difference was in the delivery systems of the techniques and the training methods that he developed after being exposed to other arts such as boxing and Western fencing. For instance, his straight punch was pretty much the same but the footwork he was using in Los Angeles was from fencing. He realized that he had to be able to punch and hit targets from a longer distance than a classic wing chun man — he wanted to be more mobile as well.
IKF: Did Bruce update you on his progress and evolution?
TK: He used to come to Seattle because (wife) Linda's mother was living here. He used to call me in advance so I could take time away from work to be trained in the new things he was going into. I was very fortunate that he didn't forget me and was willing to share his knowledge with me. He was very perceptive as a teacher because he knew that I was only capable of assimilating a certain amount of knowledge at any given point, so he never threw a bunch of stuff at me. He paced himself as a teacher according to my capabilities as student.
IKF: It is true that Bruce called you and told you “chi sao was out?"
TK: He called me and said that chi sao was not the focal point anymore, as we had thought earlier. I was shocked. He probably realized the limitations of certain aspects of wing chun when trying to practice "sticky hands" with someone like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I have to say that at that time I didn't understand what Bruce meant, but now I do. I guess this was part of his "liberation" as a martial artist. He didn't mean chi sao was useless, but only that it was not the nucleus of what he was teaching in Los Angeles. He realized that it was a important part of the totality in combat, but not the only part of it as he emphasized during his days in Seattle where he taught wing chun. For a wing chun man, chi sao is probably the most important aspect in training and it dictates the students' approach to fighting. He didn't have the tunnel-vision approach of the classic gung-fu man. The wing chun that I know is the modified version Bruce taught me and I guess its structure takes away a lot of the impractical things that you can learn in other systems. But don't misunderstand me, I don't want to take anything away from anyone else.
IKF: How did you two became such good friends?
TK: We were both Oriental and they say that "blood is thicker than water." I guess he needed someone that he could trust and depend on for more than simply gung-fu training.
IKF: You mentioned once that Bruce helped you to overcome many complex issues. Like what?
TK: I went through a lot of very hard situations in my life, and at that time I had no respect or regard for myself. Bruce made me realize that I am a human being and I have equal rights. He changed my way of thinking and looking at myself. He told me I'm just as good as anyone else and I began to believe in myself. In the gung-fu school he took me aside, under his wing, and helped me to develop self-confidence.
IKF: You were injured during a class demonstrations, right?
TK: Yes, I was badly injured in my right eye. Bruce was demonstrating the principle of a straight punch, telling everyone that he wanted the force of the punch to penetrate through the target. He looked at the group and at the same time he threw the punch. His fist connected to my right eye, broke my glasses and cut my eyeball. We went to the hospital where the doctor took all the glass splinters out of my eye and scolded me for wearing glasses during such a violent physical activity.
IKF: What did Bruce say?
TK: He scolded me for moving! I was sure as hell I didn't, but I wasn't going to be one telling him I hadn't!
IKF: What is your personal goal as far as teaching is concerned?
TK: I'm not here to teach people how to fight. If with what I'm sharing can help them to feel good about themselves, then I'm happy. I don't make instructors and I don't certify people. I'm not here to tell students that what we have is better that this style or that style. I'm just interested in being in my little corner. At one time Bruce and I were talking about starting a chain of schools in United States, but later on we decided against it. I still remember what he said: "What is really important is that you have a few close friends around, and work out a couple of times a week, and go down to Chinatown to have a cup of tea."
IKF: Do you think a good instructor has to be a good fighter?
TK: Well, the basic idea to become a good fighter is that you have to be trained to be a good fighter; and so to become a good teacher you have to be trained and taught to be a good teacher. Definitely if you can use what you know in a fight, then later on as an instructor, you’ll have direct experience to pass onto your students. But don’t be mistaken — you may fight many times and not learn anything from those experiences, and in the end you won’t have any direct experience to pass on.
IKF: Why you have been teaching in your basement all these years when you could gone public?
TK: I am a private person. I like to stay in the woodwork and I don’t think I have that much to offer because my knowledge is limited but I feel secure with what Bruce taught me. I kept the school out of respect for Bruce. It’s a private club. I don’t feel the need of being in the public eye and I really enjoy sharing with a small group of people what I learned from Bruce. I don’t charge anything and I don’t look for students. I do it in honor to him. I don’t think I can ever pay him back what he did for me as a friend. So, I do my best to keep his memory alive.