After improvising for several months in various temporary Chinatown locations, such as Wayne Chan’s pharmacy, Bruce Lee opened his third school in February 1967 at 628 College Street, just a few blocks from the Los Angeles Dodger Stadium. The institute, like those in Seattle and Oakland, was in an anonymous building. On Bruce’s orders no visitors from outside were allowed into the school, and to ensure complete privacy the windows were painted over with red enamel paint. Dan Inosanto was appointed Bruce’s assistant, and membership was strictly limited to martial artists who showed talent. If Bruce found a martial artist who already had some grounding or someone who could use what he had to offer, he was often prepared to teach them for free.
An early student Jerry Poteet recalls, ‘I was short of money and unable to pay for training, but Bruce wrote me a letter saying, “Come on in. Forget about paying until you can. You’re sincere and that’s what counts.” Bruce encouraged his students to train in their street clothes, saying that this was what they would most likely be wearing if they were involved in a fight. But while he liked to keep things relaxed and friendly, he could be strict when the situation demanded it. He once addressed the whole class: ‘I know that a lot of us are friends and that outside of the school I’m Bruce, but in here you call me Sifu. Because of the informality, there has to be some discipline. If this school was in
China, there would be a lot of people here now missing their front teeth.’
Classical martial arts training traditionally combines the development of strength with testing a student’s patience and sincerity by having him spend considerable time standing in the deep, wide horse stances. Bruce saw this practice as divorced from the reality of fighting and as pointless as ‘learning to swim on dry land’, but even so, during the first few months of training his students endured a similar probation period. Each week included several gruelling sessions of physical conditioning when quite a few people fell by the wayside. Serious teaching began only for those who remained. Dan Lee now a tai chi instructor in Pasadena, California was an electrical engineer and language instructor when he became the Los Angeles school’s first pupil in 1967. ‘Part of the high standards Bruce maintained involved giving everyone a personal fitness programme,’ Dan explains. ‘He looked at you and saw what area you needed to work on most. He really meant business and worked very hard. He was the one person I respected most. He was a straightforward person, intense, but most of all honest. He didn’t hold back any punches.’
Dan Lee’s last remark has a double edge to it. While Bruce insisted on discipline in his classes, he sometimes struggled to control his own volatile nature. One night after class, Dan Inosanto, Dan Lee and Bruce Lee were in Bruce’s kitchen at home. Bruce got out some boxing gloves and challenged Dan Lee to a knockabout. While they were jabbing at each other, Dan got through with ‘a lucky punch’, which caused Bruce to go after him for real.
Dan Inosanto recalls, ‘Bruce broke his jaw as he followed him, hitting him with short punches all the way down to the ground. He must have hit him fifteen or twenty times, or at least it looked that way. It was all incredibly fast, but he did control the blows.’
‘Yes, it happened,’ confirms Dan Lee. ‘It was a long time ago. I was very privileged to work with Bruce Lee.’
‘If Bruce had one drawback,’ adds Dan Inosanto, ‘it was his temper.
He once told me that it was because he was in a rush to educate people and wanted fast results.’
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