Thursday, March 13, 2008
Bruce & Bruce
Before Bruce Lee was Bruce Tegner. When I was a young fellow, books on martial arts were few and far between, (what with having to be chiseled into stone or written on papyrus) and the leading writer of these was Bruce Tegner. His parents taught ju-jitus and judo, and he was born into it, became a judo champion, eventually studied karate, and combined them into something called Jukado.
He also wrote books on arts about which he knew very little, interviewing those who did, and using them as models. Born in the late 1920's, Tegner died in 1985, and is little remembered today for the pioneer writing he did. (If you went looking for martial arts book in the sixties, you seldom found one. If, over the course of a few months of looking, you found, say, five of them? Four of those would be by Tegner.)
His training philosophy was simple: You should know a few basic moves well, and that fighting smart was better than fighting hard.
It came up in a comment to a posting as to whether or not Bruce Lee, who was James Coburn's teacher in the late 60's, had anything to do with showing Coburn how to play with a knife in The Magnificent Seven. Great cowboy picture, and almost a straight-across rip-off of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. John Sturges was a Kurosawa fan. Most good Hollywood directors were. Still are.
You ever have five or six hours to burn, watch one movie, then the other. There are differences, but some of the scenes are exactly the same, shot-for-shot, with guns instead of swords.
Lee didn't teach Coburn the knife-work for Seven. Coburn was one of Tegner's students -- Tegner even had a small role as one of the attackers in a martial art's training sequence early on in Our Man Flint, a spoof of James Bond. Years before Lee did The Green Hornet, which packed his private lessons with big-name actors, Tegner had a similar roster of Hollywood celebrities. Before Coburn trained under Lee, he had spent years training with Tegner. He was one of Lee's first celebrity clients:
When I was seventeen, I wanted to be Derek Flint. Looking back from here, his kung-fu was no good, but back then, it was the only game in town and it was really impressive to somebody yet to take his first martial arts' class.
Flint was the absolute renaissance man -- brilliant, tough, beautiful women hanging on him, a teenage boy's idol. Coburn, along with Spencer Tracy, in Bad Day at Black Rock, were my first on-screen martial art influences. Tracy, who plays a one-armed veteran come to pay his respects to a fallen Nisei comrade, gets bullied by a young Lee Marvin in the local diner. You hurt for the guy -- until he tosses Marvin on his ass using some sneaky Japanese fighting thing.
Thus the history lesson for the day ...