Grandmaster Ted Wong RIP

I was just gearing up to write about Bruce Lee. If Bruce Lee were alive as of November 27, 2010, he would be 70 years old. It’s practically impossible to imagine a 70 year-old Bruce Lee. And now I hear the sad news that one of Bruce Lee’s top students and closest friends, Ted Wong, has died.

It seems like many of those who were close to Bruce Lee are slipping away from us all too quickly.

I remember years ago when I was studying JKD with Tim Evans Sensei, and we had one of Ted Wong’s instructors come and give a seminar. This teacher asked what we thought Jeet Kune Do was. “Freedom,” was one answer. The instructor’s answer was that JKD was Bruce Lee’s personal art. (Here I am paraphrasing.) Bruce Lee was Chinese, spoke Chinese, and that his art was inextricably Chinese.

Since the instructor himself was Chinese (as was his teacher, Ted Wong) and the audience was Filipino and Caucasian, the implied message seemed to be a twist on the old sign, “No Dogs or Caucasians Allowed.” Many people were upset, inferring racism or –at the least– chauvinism.

But in time I came to see the point that was being made. The place to start is with Bruce Lee’s technique. That is JKD. That is the essence. Those core techniques and teachings of Bruce Lee need to be preserved, especially in view of how many of those who had first hand personal experiences with Bruce Lee are fading away. This was the impetus for the Bruce Lee Foundation –to preserve the legacy while there’s still time. From the Bruce Lee Foundation:

“But, too often, people diverge from Bruce Lee’s JKD but continue to call it “Bruce Lee’s JKD” which only adds to the confusion. So, yes, there was a certain amount of individuality and personal exploration promoted by Bruce Lee in JKD but it was within the framework of the foundation he had already himself laid down. Anything that diverges too abruptly from that path (such as, teaching other arts and labeling it JKD, or altering the basic stance and front lead, or adding weapons training into JKD, etc) should be classified as someone else’s take on JKD and not ascribed to Bruce Lee. To think we know best what Bruce Lee wanted or who Bruce Lee is is pure hubris. Rather if we come up with our own innovations, we should stand proudly by those and label them with our own name, but keep Bruce Lee’s JKD pure.”


Of course, this could be interpreted as a slam against the Inosanto crowd. Yet I see GM Wong’s point, that Bruce Lee didn’t do weapons. And it seems that with GM Inosanto every week is a new art, whether Silat, Savate, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or Zulu warrior arts.

You can see Ted Wong in action here, and while the technique is nothing earth shattering, the execution is solid, fluid, and eerily like Bruce Lee. You can also hear an interview between Ted Wong and Bruce Lee’s daughter here. Every account I’ve ever heard is very clear that Bruce Lee had an incredible aura of almost nuclear charisma. Ted Wong describes Bruce as “a magnet.”

There is a memorial website for GM Wong here.

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10 Responses to “Grandmaster Ted Wong RIP”

  1. Le anime dei buoni sono tra le braccia di Dio R.I.P. mister Wong.

  2. I am in the Inosanto camp, and how can I not be? My two teachers are only one instructor away from Dan.

    That being said, I find most people don’t know how to look at Dan properly. Many people are disrespectful and can not see Dan as anything less than one of Bruce Lee’s JKD students. Dan was a student but he was also a teacher, an athlete, a father, and a student of the martial arts. So flipping what if Dan decided to learn BJJ at 74? Hooray for a guy who is a teacher becoming a student again and learning another martial art. Another non-Bruce’s time teacher says that grappling is not part of JKD…bullcrap!…Bruce died when he was only 32, but that doesn’t mean that Bruce had it all figured out at 32, far from it! Bruce was still learning and still planned to evolve JKD at 33 and 34 but that chance was taken away from him. It’s a fact that Bruce was working on throws and ground work and you can see this in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do as well as his 4 books, all of which his wife put together after his death. Bruce was doing ground work but he was not doing BJJ for the simple fact that it was not commonly known in America until the 80’s.

    The fact is that JKD is only one of the arts that Dan teaches but all the Bruce fans only want to see him as a JKD teacher.

    It was Dan who taught Bruce his stick work, which Bruce saw fit to include in his movies. I don’t think Bruce was against weapons, it was just that he focused on what he had on him no matter where he was, which is to say he focused on his body weapons which no one can take away short of cutting off an arm or a leg.

    It’s one thing to honour a student of Bruce Lee’s, it’s another thing to bring into question another student of Bruce Lee. They were all students each training differently and in different places with Bruce Lee but Bruce left no “Grandmaster” of JKD as the one source for us today.

    What is JKD? Well it is what Bruce says it is, not Dan, not Ted, not anyone else. When I want to look at what JKD is I go to the source and read the writtings of Bruce Lee himself.

  3. By his four books I mean the fighting series, the Tao of Jeet Kune Do is more of a concept book than a how-to book. All five of which were put together from Bruce’s notes after his death. Bruce only published one book while he was living.

    And for those who say that Ted preserved JKD the most I have to say, dah! Ted never learned anything else but JKD so of course you don’t see him doing anything else. Bruce himself was friends with many great martial artists of other styles. Dan is not watering down JKD when he teaches the Philipino martial arts, he is teaching another martial art period! Want to learn JKD? Dan can teach you, want to learn Escrima? Dan can teach you.

    Why am I in the Inosanto camp? I am in it because Dan is one of the most respectful and humble of the JKD students and doesn’t go around bashing other JKD students that have trained with Bruce.

  4. James,

    Well, I knew that was coming. I hope you can see that I began my Filipino martial arts journey with Dan Inosanto’s book. I am certainly an Inosanto fan.

    As I mentioned, I was initially offended by the Ted Wong viewpoint, but eventually I came to see what I think he was driving at.

    This is a subject for another post, but every art must balance preservation (which we might call the Wong camp) versus innovation (which we might call the Inosanto camp). I think a martial art and artist need both facets, even though people will disagree as to what the proper balance is.

  5. I am a student Under Dan inosanto’s line…
    I would just like to say that 2 people were at a level 3…
    Dan Inosanto ,and James Lee.
    When Bruce was alive Dan did over 90 percent of the teaching, and james lee died… how did all these people who were students, suddenly become teachers ??
    Bruce said ..” If people say Jeet kune Do is different from this or from that, then let the name of Jeet kune do be wiped out, for that is what it is, just a name. Please don’t fuss over it.
    Ted Wong and the res,t studied under Dan as well. just because you’re a student, it doesn’t make you a teacher.
    Dan inosanto has over 2000 lessons documented, he doesn’t need the tao of JKD to teach it.
    Everyone is trying to make a buck off poor old Bruce, and he himself was just a student of martial arts.
    Wake up people, it’s exercise….
    We all have other jobs, and there is a life besides martial art, just ask your wife.
    with respect
    Roger

  6. Sorry I really have to say this: I think Mr. Ted Wong had really turned JKD into “Classical Mess”….

  7. Ed,

    I see your point, but I think we also need to give Sifu Wong the benefit of the doubt. I believe he was trying to honor Bruce and his legacy as best as he could.

  8. That’s the thing, Ted Wong is a fellow martial artist and deserves all the respect of a martial artists. When I get into JKD discussions I focus on issue points rather than people, unless it is to speak up for a person or to talk about what they study.

    It’s not an us or them thing, it’s what we can learn from each other. That is not to say that there aren’t bad people in the martial arts, just that we should accept the good ones and not play one against the other.

  9. I honor Wong Sifu and I have learned greatly from his teaching.
    I have also learned a great deal from Guro Dan. I am hoping that as more and more original students of Bruce Lee either pass on or retire from teaching, that we can put this “originalism versus concepts”
    debate to bed once and for all. Now it grieves my heart to see the controversy erupt in this place of all places. Have not the magazines thematized this for 20 years? And when is enough enough?
    Please remember what Si Gung Bruce said, “there is nothing much in this art. Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.”

  10. street fightin uncaged bonus…

    Grandmaster Ted Wong RIP « Big Stick Combat Blog…

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