Thursday, November 30, 2017

Later Mitose heirs

Bruce Juchnick, Thomas Barro Mitose, and Nimr Hassan. All three men trained or had a relationship, at one time or another, with Kosho Ryu Kenpo grandmaster James Mitose and later all three would lay claim to the heirship of the martial art.

(photo was taken sometime in the 1980’s after Grandmaster Mitose had died while in prison.)

Arnie Golub and Nimr Hassan

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Bruce Lee Student You Never Knew Existed Tells All


When it comes to being a journalist, your work is often only as good as your sources. An insightful quote or keen bit of perspective from a relevant participant can be the difference between really getting to the heart of a matter versus merely covering it.

While writing my book Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America, I put special emphasis on my sources. I sought out as many people as possible who experienced this particular chapter of martial arts history first-hand, over half-a-century ago. Not many, but some, were hard to win over. Occasionally, some sources just weren’t very good at conveying their experiences. Others required that I take long drives or plane flights up and down the U.S. west coast to get to them.

Oddly enough, one of my very best sources came and found me.

Shortly after writing my original article on Bruce Lee’s Bay Area roots for San Francisco Magazine, I got an email from Barney Scollan who explained that he was “the kid in the white T shirt” within the group shot of Bruce Lee’s Oakland school operating out of James Lee’s garage. In terms of sources for my planned book project on this history, Barney fell into a sort of sweet spot. I had already interviewed a lot of 80 and 90 year-old sources from this period.  However, Barney was within an ideal age range, where he was old enough to really experience the history, but not too old to have forgotten the fine details.

Better yet, Barney wasn’t your usual Bruce Lee subject. In my research, I noticed that a lot of the same people had been interviewed over and over again for Bruce’s biographies. In order to get a fresh take on this history, I sought to find new sources who experienced these events first hand. So with all that in mind, I couldn’t get in my car fast enough to make the two hour drive down the California coast to the scenic city of Carmel to meet with Barney. There, over dinner and a few gin cocktails, we had a very long talk about his experiences. I could have left happy with just that, because Barney gave me a lot to work with: he was at Long Beach in ’64, knew Ed Parker, practiced at Bruce’s Broadway school, relocated with everyone to James Lee’s garage, attended Bruce’s birthday parties, and hung out in James Lee’s living room while Brandon crawled around on the floor. Better yet, Barney didn’t pursue a martial arts career, so there was no brand to manage, just a straight-shooter point-of-view on what it was all like.  As I had initially hoped, he was indeed an ideal kind of source.

And then!…Then he pulled out a satchel containing a treasure trove of rare photos and documents: original images from James Lee’s house in Oakland, never-before-seen photos from Long Beach, an original sketch by Bruce Lee, an enrollment receipt for Jun Fan. Wow! It seemed like it should be in a museum exhibit.

Barney and I stayed in close touch while I wrote the book. In fact, as I went back again and again to interview him, he became a very enthusiastic and encouraging advocate for the project. One of my most gratifying moments since the book was published, was hearing that he enjoyed reading it as much as he did.

Beyond the book…Barney is just a cool guy to hang out with.  The guy has stories. Like the one about running into Frank Sinatra and his entourage in Las Vegas. Or the tale of getting beat up after a Rolling Stones concert and ending up in the emergency room next to (logically enough) Keith Richards.  Or the time he approached Steve McQueen and then spent the afternoon sparring with him (see below). And of course, Barney had a front row seat for those pivotal days in Oakland right before Bruce Lee broke into Hollywood.

So I am very happy to now turn this over to Barney Scollan to take you back to ’64 in his own words, and to give you a glimpse into that satchel full of treasure.:- Charles Russo

How did you become interested in Martial arts?

I was raised in Sacramento, California in the ‘60s. In my circle of friends, the principal forms of recreation and entertainment in those days seemed to revolve around football games, beer, school dances, main street drag racing, beer, and trying to attract females.  All of these activities involved large doses of teenage hormones and immature macho attitudes which often resulted in senseless street fighting.

Being one of the smaller kids around, I was always seeking whatever advantage I could find to equal 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 shatter 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 on the streets of Sacramento.

Shortly thereafter, a Karate studio opened in my neighborhood, Tracy’s Kenpo Karate.  

I raced over and introduced myself to Al Tracy, a short, somewhat nerdy looking guy with thick glasses.  I was not impressed, that is until he demonstrated a few “moves” with speed and power that I had never seen on the street.  I signed up and became one of his first Sacramento students (He had another established school in San Francisco).

Karate became my passion and soon I was taking classes daily.  It was interesting in that, once you became somewhat skilled and confident in your abilities, the desire to fight pretty much evaporated.

How did you get introduced to Bruce Lee?

In 1964, Al Tracy’s instructor, Ed Parker, had his first International Championship Tournament in Long Beach, California.  Masters and students from many styles came from all over the world to demonstrate and participate.

I was in a group of students from Sacramento who were entered in the “white belt” category.  In those days, sparring was a “no contact” sport.  I was disqualified for kicking my opponent in the groin during my very first match. Anyhow, it was at this tournament that I first encountered Bruce Lee.

Can you explain a bit about Bruce’s demonstration at Long Beach and why it resonated with you?

Bruce took the floor and demonstrated many of the most popular martial arts styles with great skill. Then he explained why he felt they were impractical for actual fighting, causing more than a little anger among the followers of those styles.

To demonstrate his amazing speed, he would have someone from the audience face him in a defensive position.  Bruce would stand some three feet away and dart in and out, touching the fellow’s forehead before the person could raise his arm even 6 inches to block the punch.

He also showed lightning fast kicks and punches which had most of us shaking our heads in disbelief. 
Two fingered, one armed pushups were also very impressive. The simplicity and directness of his principles and technique made a lot of sense to me. He made a number of believers and enemies that night.  

You were fortunate to experience Bruce’s actual Broadway school location in Oakland, from right when it opened. Can you tell us something about practicing there?

In the autumn of 1964, I began attending the University of California in Berkeley.  I knew that Bruce had just opened a school in Oakland and I was able to sign up and become one of his first students at that location.  The cost was $20 a month for 3 lessons a week.

The school was in a clean, modern building in Oakland.  It was a good-sized room that I think had once been a dance studio.  There were bars along one wall that we used for stretching at the beginning of each class.  The daily routine varied quite a bit, but always started with stretching, then some exercises. The number of students seemed to vary quite a bit from 3 or 4, to as many as a dozen.

Classes were fun and pretty easy going, with Bruce constantly explaining theory, demonstrating, correcting technique, and telling stories. He would sometimes stand with one leg raised straight over his shoulder, then switch to the other, all the while talking normally as if anyone could do this effortlessly.

We would work on form, balance, speed, and endurance.  There was a punching bag suspended between two elastic cords that was used to teach how to punch straight ahead from your center which was one of the principles of Wing Chung.

Later the school was moved to James Lee’s garage, also in Oakland. Classes there were more relaxed and usually ended up in James’s living room afterward. We would discuss everything from martial arts to the best places to eat. Often Linda Lee was present with new baby Brandon in a crib in the corner.

It was during one of these times that Bruce demonstrated his now famous “1-inch punch” on me.  I was leaning forward, braced in a football type stance with a couch cushion held in front of me.  Bruce held his fist about an inch away and punched. I flew through the air hitting and tipping over the couch behind me. My two roommates in college were there watching and grabbed me, saving me from hitting the large window behind the couch.

What was James Lee like as an instructor and what was the atmosphere like in James Lee’s garage studio?

Bruce was travelling quite a bit during this time and James Lee would often teach the classes in Bruce’s absence.   James was much more serious than Bruce and the classes were “no nonsense.” He was quick and very powerful.  When he showed you something, you paid attention.

Can you recall the major differences from your training in Oakland to your previous martial arts instruction?

The technique of Jeet Kune Do was quite a bit different than those of the Kenpo Karate I had been studying.  Kenpo utilized more circular punches and a wide variety of combinations.  Kicks were also quite varied and often aimed high.

Jeet Kune Do on the other hand, was based on simplicity.  Its purpose was to eliminate the non- essential movement.  Kicks were low and punches were straight and short.  Less was more. Bruce preached not daily increase, but daily decrease – hack away the unessential.  

The fighting stances were very different also.  Kenpo was based on the traditional “horse” stance, while Jeet Kune Do usually used a more flexible, moving stance.

What is your fondest memory of your time with Bruce? What was socializing like with him?

Bruce was just fun to be around.  He had a great sense of humor and always seemed to be in a happy frame of mind. A tradition of Bruce’s was to invite his students out to lunch on his birthday.  A few of us were invited to go with him to a Chinese restaurant in Oakland.  I can’t remember the food, but I do remember telling jokes and laughing all the way to the restaurant.  Bruce had a bit of a Chinese accent and would talk slowly to get the pronunciation correct.  There was something about Bruce telling jokes in this slow, forceful manner that made them even funnier.

When did you last see Bruce?

I graduated from Berkeley and Bruce was off to Southern California to pursue his growing movie career.  I never saw him again, but followed him as closely as possible through various articles and of course the movies.  I am still amazed at his skill when watching his movies after all these years.  He was one of a kind and I didn’t realize at the time how fortunate I was to have known him.

How did his death affect you?

Like everyone who knew him or admired his skills and insights, I was totally shocked when I heard of his death.  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 he was just beginning.

Did you have contact with any of his students after he died?

Years later I moved to Carmel California and opened a home furnishing/ antique store in an historic building that was built in the 20’s by my wife’s grandfather. One day I noticed a seedy looking, long haired guy with a beard and sunglasses in the store who looked familiar.  I asked him, “Aren’t you Steve McQueen?” He looked at me like I was a bug and said, “Yeah. Why?”

“Because we had the same Sifu – Bruce.”

He warmed up and said, “Boy, I could sure use a good workout.” I told him – “Let’s go.  I have a gym set up in an old barn.”

We traded techniques and punches, and then told stories over lunch. Later he took a shower at my house.  My mother-in-law was visiting at the time and I won’t forget the look on her face when she walked into the bathroom and found Steve McQueen wearing only a towel.

How did you get involved with telling your story now 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 that I had taken years earlier was the opening photo for the article.  As I had never shared the many pictures I took of Bruce with anyone, I wrote Charles Russo, the author of the article to inquire how he got it. He explained that he got it from the Bruce Lee Foundation.  

Apparently a clerk at a photo shop in Carmel had stolen the negatives when I had copies made and sold them to Black Belt Magazine or someone.  It turned out that many of my photos had been on-line for years without me knowing it. The moral: when you are having photos copied of someone famous, don’t brag to the clerk about who it is!

Anyhow, 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 insights and stories, trying to separate fact from fiction, and became pretty good friends in the process.

He did an amazing amount of legwork and some pretty cool sleuthing to gather all that information.  Most of which would have been lost forever had he not embraced this project, and gained the trust and confidence of so many of the key players in the history of the Bay Area martial movement. I loved the book and am proud to have been a very small part of it.

And now a little about the new book Striking Distance

Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America.:- by Charles Russo
In the spring of 1959, eighteen-year-old Bruce Lee returned to San Francisco, the city of his birth, and quickly inserted himself into the West Coast’s fledgling martial arts culture. Even though Asian fighting styles were widely unknown to mainstream America, Bruce encountered a robust fight culture in a San Francisco Bay area that was populated with talented and trailblazing practitioners such as Lau Bun, Chinatown’s aging kung fu patriarch; Wally Jay, the innovative Hawaiian jujitsu master; and James Lee, the no-nonsense Oakland street fighter. Regarded by some as a brash loudmouth and by others as a dynamic visionary, Bruce spent his first few years back in America advocating a more modern approach to the martial arts and showing little regard for the damaged egos left in his wake.

In the Chinese calendar, 1964 was the Year of the Green Dragon. It would be a challenging and eventful year for Bruce. He would broadcast his dissenting view before the first great international martial arts gathering and then defend it by facing down Chinatown’s young ace kung fu practitioner in a legendary behind-closed-doors high noon–style showdown. The Year of the Green Dragon saw the dawn of martial arts in America and the rise of an icon.

Drawing on more than one hundred original interviews and an eclectic array of sources, Striking Distance is an engrossing narrative chronicling San Francisco Bay’s pioneering martial arts scene as it thrived in the early 1960s and offers an in-depth look at a widely unknown chapter of Bruce Lee’s iconic life.

About the Author :- Charles Russo is an award-winning journalist who lives in San Francisco


Friday, November 3, 2017

Al Tracy has passed

(from the Tracy's Kenpo Karate International Facebook page, November 1st, 2017)

Pat here ... had not posted yet as the grief is still so strong. Can't believe Al, the love of my life, is gone. Incomprehensible. Grateful that our daughter, Kristina (Tina) spent the last couple weeks of her Dad's life with us, helping to care for him with love.

We wanted to thank all of Al's fellow Kenpoists, instructors, students and friends for expressions of love, support and condolence. Hope we can have one or more memorials in his honor in the next few months. Thank you all for the love.