20 October 2008

Bruce Lee's Other Student

My Sensei, Eddie Hart (at far left) back in the 1960s when he was a student of Bruce Lee.
At right is Jesse Glover, Lee's other famous student. Eddie died of emphysema in 2005.

Photo credit: Bruce Lee.


You're probably wondering why I haven't been writing. Well it's because I've been writing. You already know that I write all goddamn day at work. Now I have two other things: one extracurricular project, and one writing class. That means I have to write all the more. Were it not for the fact that I'm about to just cut and paste what I've been working on in my writing class for the past couple of weeks, I probably wouldn't be making this post at all.

I'm taking a class in first person storytelling from David Schmader at Richard Hugo House. It's six weeks long and totally worth $195 and skipping the last two hours of your workday each Wednesday if you can swing it. And like I said, I'd love to chat more right now but instead I'm gonna just let you read this excerpt from the essay I've been working on for class. Why? Because I'm a bitch-ass lazy punk who tries to find the easy way out of everything. That is when he's not writing like some kind of hypergraphia-fueled nutbag. The assignment for the next class was to write a 500-word chunk of the essay from anywhere you feel like starting. Anyway, enjoy. -Thaddeus

PS: There's no title. Suffer. -TRG

My sensei Eddie Hart used to videotape all of his student’s progress. Week 1: there’s Thaddeus, getting his ass kicked. Week 2: there’s Thaddeus, getting his ass kicked, but not quite so bad. Week 3: there’s Thaddeus getting his ass kicked, but at least he’s looking good. His arms are getting definition, his strikes more precise, and his falls are more controlled, even though he’s on the edge of consciousness.

On the other hand, his sparring partner, Ted Hart, Ed's son, looks great – all six feet six inches of him. He works in a vacuum, undistracted, his focus impermeable. It’s because he’s a second dan. And he’s as deaf as granite. Got mumps when he was thirteen. The last music he remembers is Boston. I often wonder if it’s an unimaginable torture to get “More Than A Feeling” stuck in your head if there’s no competing sound to offset it. Oddly enough, I wonder this while Ted’s fists are crashing down on my head. It distracts me from the pain.

Three punch combinations land in rhythm – boom boom clap, boom boom clap, boom boom clap. I throw my hand up in front of my face to make the sign for “stop”. Ted’s fist connects with the back of my hand and I punch myself in the face. Eddie calls a stop. I’m beat, but I’m not angry or ashamed. I’m just beat.

Eddie takes me aside to work with me on three punch combinations. He’s supposed to block my first two, and I’m supposed to let the third fly harmlessly past his left ear. We do this for fifteen minutes straight. I get tired. I start thinking about how the boom boom clap sounds like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing if I got punched in the ears and went deaf and got that song jammed in my head for all eternity. I get sloppy, and put a stiff right square on the center of Eddie’s upper lip. His head snaps back and he looks at me in amazement.

“No one has ever hit me that hard in anger,” he says. I wait for a reciprocal right cross from the guy who used to spar with Bruce Lee. Instead he turns and addresses the rest of the dojo.

“Anyone wanna to spar with an amateur?” he asks. The rest of the fighters bawl dissent. He turns back to me. “Go home and don’t come back until I tell you that you can come back.”

When I first interviewed at the dojo and Eddie went on a tear about how he knew Bruce Lee, I thought he was just stacking bullshit to impress me before he named some exorbitant price for his own exclusive method of instruction. It seems that everybody in Seattle who was anywhere near martial arts in 1964 claims to have known Bruce Lee. Turns out there are only two people in Seattle who were in Bruce Lee’s dojo back then. One of them is Jessie Glover, the first martial arts instructor ever certified by Bruce Lee. The other one broke out his old snapshots so he could show me him and Bruce out at dinner, him and Bruce at his wedding, him and Bruce slapping the holy hell out of each other, all of this while chattering excitedly and smoking hand-rolled shag while wearing street shoes in the dojo. Then he got out all his clippings from Black Belt magazine, articles he had written about The Little Dragon back in the day.

Somewhere along the line we finally got to talking about kickboxing, more specifically jeet kune do, and even more specifically chi sao, the “sticking hands” technique, and pretty soon Eddie’s asking me to take a shot at him. I mean here’s this guy, a chain smoker, who is about as big around as a butt thermometer, who looks like he’s gonna cack if so much as a cat fart even glances him, and he’s asking the 27-year-old, very-much-in-shape me to take a swing. Happy to oblige, I put up my dukes and fire away.

My hand never makes it anywhere near him. It gets blocked so far away so fast that my shoulder gets torqued all bass-ackwards. I am now convinced that this man can show me at least one thing about martial arts.