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The '26 Arts' of Jun Fan Gung Fu?

Q: I have read in numerous sources that JFGF is comprised of 26 different martial arts, including Wing Chun. Is this true and if so, how did Bruce Lee study so many arts?

A: No, that is actually a misperception. Bruce Lee had a deep and abiding interest in martial arts. As a young man he loved the rich martial traditions, legends, and folklore of the Chinese martial arts. He was aware of many styles of gung fu while he was growing up in Hong Kong and intrigued with the many different famous masters and the skills they were supposed to have possessed. Despite the fact that he was training in the Wing Chun system, he nevertheless had a keen interest in being exposed to different forms of gung fu and learning about them. Part of his study involved collecting pictures of various arts such as Praying Mantis (Northern) Eagle Claw, Crane, etc., which he put in scrapbooks.

In Appendix 1 in Vol. 2 of the Bruce Lee Library Series – The Tao of Gung Fu (pg. 186-187) one can see a list pertaining to Bruce Lee’s background at the time he wrote his first book: Chinese Gung Fu - The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense. Appendix 3 (pg. 192-198) shows images from Bruce Lee’s “Gung Fu” scrapbook which show different styles of gung fu and various actions. And on pages 150-162 of the same book contains his ideas and opinions dealing with Traditions and Histories of Chinese Gung Fu, including more images from his scrapbooks.

In addition, Bruce’s brother, Peter, was a champion fencer which gave him some initial exposure to that art. And in high school Bruce competed in a western boxing tournament and won, giving him exposure to that art as well.

There were some gung fu forms that he learned (and often performed them during demonstrations). There were gung fu styles and martial art methods that held his interest in the late 1950’s thru early 1960’s.And there were gung fu styles that he read about it in books he collected.

In the mid-1990’s, Bruce Lee historian John Little spoke at-length with Bruce Lee’s first student, Jesse Glover, about Lee and his martial arts background. Jesse met Bruce in 1959 and trained with Bruce for three years of private one-on-one instruction and continued to see Bruce for three years after dropping out of Bruce’s “formal” classes. The following material from that interview (which was supplied to me by John) helps paint a clear picture of Bruce’s martial art interests and studies:

BRUCE LEE'S MARTIAL ARTS BACKGROUND (CIRCA 1959-1963) -- Based upon recollections from Jesse Glover:

ARTS BRUCE LEARNED PRIOR TO COMING TO THE UNITED STATES: 1.) Hung (learned in Hong Kong from a friend of his father's) 2.)Tai Chi Ch'uan (learned a little bit from his father) 3.) Wing Chun (learned from Yip Man with additional instruction from senior students, Wong Shen Leung and William Cheung). 4.) Little bit of Chinese Ju-Jitsu (joint & wrist locks)

FORMS BRUCE LEARNED 1.) Praying Mantis (taught to him by Fook Young at Seattle's Chinese Youth Club) 2.) Southern Mantis (perhaps the same as above -- this was the form he used most often during Gung fu demonstrations in Seattle). 3.) Wing Chun's Sil Lum Tao (Bruce emphasized that it should be learned in three parts) 4 ) Yang Long Form Tai Chi Ch'uan (108 movements, taught to him by either his father in Hong Kong or by Fook Young in Seattle) 5 ) Wing Chun Wooden Dummy Form (Bruce spent 2-4 hours a day practicing the wooden dummy form

STYLES THAT HELD BRUCE'S INTEREST IN 1960 1.) Tai Chi (the one that impressed Bruce most in terms of its beauty and grace) 2.) Northern Mantis 3.) Eagle Claw (Bruce admired its flexibility) 4.) Pa Kua (Ba Gua?) 5.) Monkey 6.) Northern Mantis (admired its smooth kicks) 7.) Jeet Kune 8.) Choy Li Fut 9.) Mongolian Wrestling (Chinese Ju-Jitsu) 10.) Savate (side thrust kick) 11.) Fencing (lunge strike) 12.) Judo (throws) 13.) Boxing 14.) Wrestling * Also interested in Chinese medicine

MARTIAL ARTS STYLES THAT BRUCE BOUGHT BOOKS ON (In Vancouver B.C. bookstores) 1.) Southern Mantis 2.) Eagle Claw 3.) Dragon 4.) Tai Chi Ch'uan 5.) Choy Li Fut 6.) Hsing-I 7.) Sil Lum 8.) Pa-Kua 9 ) Hung (Gar?) 10.) Chinese ju-jitsu (book sent from his Hung teacher in Hong Kong) 11.) Poison Hands (Dim Mak) 12.)Karate

When asked what Bruce Lee taught him, Jesse Glover replied -- “He taught me techniques from Wing Chun, Praying Mantis, Tai Chi, Ba Gwa, Eagle Claw, Hung Gar and the Tiger.”

If you look at Jesse’s list and the list that appears in the Appendix of the aforementioned book, you will note they are very similar. And if you count the arts on the list from Jesse you’ll come up with the number ‘26’. In the years following Lee’s passing, some people for whatever reason, mistakenly assumed that all these arts were either part of Bruce Lee’s Jun Fan Gung Fu or somehow an influence in his martial development, when in fact most of them played little or no meaningful role at all. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to say that all these arts comprise Jun Fan Gung Fu, or that Bruce Lee investigated, dissected and analyzed all of them.

What martial art systems and styles Lee assessed for strengths and weaknesses and ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ are written in his Commentaries on the Martial Way notes which have been published in Vol. 3 of the Bruce Lee Library Series by Tuttle Publishing. But a number of the arts listed, such as Aikido, Kendo, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, etc., he did not practice at all. I would suggest that anyone sincerely interested in Bruce’s martial development take a closer look at the material in these as well as other books about Jun Fan Gung Fu and Jeet Kune Do.