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 ...


Brad said...

I think I still have a few of Tegner's books stashed somewhere around the house. His were some of the first books I bought as a kid.

Aaron said...

My introduction to Karate was from Bruce Tegner's book. My Dad had it and let me read it. I wore the pages out.


Michael B. said...

Love that of my favorites...any info on where once can aquire these books??

Steve Perry said...

Google "Bruce Tegner." There are a bunch of books for sale at various used bookstores online. As long as you aren't looking for first editions, they are mostly reasonably priced.

steve-vh said...

First MA book, Tegner's Jui Jitsu. Got it from my Grandparents bookshelf at 12yrs old. No Idea how it got there.
Still have it too.
Loved the "uniforms" and shoes.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, most of the ones I have are paperbacks that have migrated to a box in the attic. I have the third edition of the Jukado book in my reference rack, with the jaw-breaker title:

"Bruce Tegner's Complete book of Jukado Self-Defense:
Judo, Karate, Aikido (Jiu Jitsu Modernized) .White Belt through Black Belt."

Many of the moves look stiff and stagey. All the knife defenses will get you sliced and diced. But the text is still full of decent advice: Guy's got a weapon and you don't, run, or give him the wallet. You should probably be more alert to danger in an alley than at the church picnic, though that has changed some in forty years. If attacked by a gang, don't wait for them, move first, and run if you can ...

I have a copy of the thirteenth printing of Kuwashima and Welch's book, Judo, from 1951 (org. pub. 1938, ) This was back in the day when the belts hadn't gone rainbow yet -- white, brown, black, with dan ranks after that. Some of those moves are fun -- The Devil's Handshake is a hoot.

And I have Mas Oyama's This is Karate, c. 1965, my edition is from 1972.

There are MA books out the wazoo these days, but there was a time when you could own all the books available in English on martial arts of the eastern persuasion and not fill up a bookshelf. It was Tegner who opened the tap.

steve-vh said...

I picked up Robert Cato's "Moro Swords" in 2000 for $50.
That baby's trading for some serious (200+)cash now (drool Bobbe!).
I'll have to check the edition on my HARDCOVER Tegner.

e0richt said...

I have quite a few books from Tegner and looking at some of the older ones (the first editions) he actually looked similar to the martial arts books of today... he seemed to boil it down for learning self defense on your own.
I find it interesting that today, everyone recommends using a fist on an attacker, which requires some conditioning to not hurt your hand, but if you use a driving handsword to the nose you can cause an attacker much pain and not any to yourself...