The largest influence on Bruce Lee’s martial arts approach was his study of Wing Chun. Wing Chun is unique among martial arts, as the effectiveness of this Chinese “Kung Fu” relies on principles rather than brute strength. A close-range system known for its use of quick movements and trapping skills, Wing Chun practice develops extraordinary sensitivity, balance and coordination.
Bruce began training in Wing Chun at age 13 under the now famous Wing Chun teacher Yip Man in the summer of 1954. After a year into his Wing Chun training, some of Yip Man’s other students refused to train with Lee due to his ancestry (his mother was of half German ancestry) as Chinese were secretive in relation to teaching martial arts techniques especially to foreigners. He then only trained with Yip Man privately and outside the school with his Wing Chun friends William Cheung and Wong Shun Leung.
After moving to America, Bruce Lee formalized the concept of Jeet Kune Do. However, in reality what he found was the essence of advanced Wing Chun, something he didn’t train. Contrary to popular belief, true Wing Chun is a concept-based art, not a style. It is not an “adding to” of more and more things on top of each other to form a system, but rather, a winnowing out. The metaphor Bruce Lee used from Wing Chun was of constantly filling a cup with water, and then emptying it, used for describing Wing Chun’s philosophy of “casting off what is useless”. He also used the sculptor’s mentality of beginning with a lump of clay and hacking away at the “unessentials”; the end result was what he considered to be the bare combat essentials.