RUJKD.Com ©2014 About Bruce Lee and Joe Lewis
Jeet Kune Do is the methodology developed, practiced and taught by Bruce Lee between the years 1967 and 1973. The terms “Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do” and “Original Jeet Kune Do” were introduced after Bruce Lee died to best describe the wing chun based physical skills and philosophy taught and practiced by Lee during his lifetime. The Jeet Kune Do Concept was developed after the death of Bruce Lee to continue the investigative approach Lee brought to the study of multiple martial arts systems. The term “Jun Fan Kickboxing” was introduced after the death of Bruce Lee to describe the full contact fighting method Lee employed as a format to “Absorb what is useful.”
This site is dedicated to the Jeet Kune Do of Bruce Lee and Joe Lewis. Joe Lewis began a study of karate on the island of Okinawa in 1963. He earned his black belt in 1964. He studied at several dojos and at his second dojo earned the black belt in seven months. Returning to the US in 1966 Joe Lewis entered and won his first karate tournament, the Jhoon Rhee US National Karate championships in Washington, DC, thus beginning perhaps the most successful career in karate tournament history.
In the 1960s, Lewis became the most feared tournament fighter on the planet. His techniques were simple. Joe made believers of everyone who fought him. He was perhaps the strongest, best conditioned athlete that ever stepped on the tournament floor. Joe’s strategy was simple back then. Once he got his hand on the opponent’s gi it was over. Joe, with the strength of a lion and tenacity of the tiger, would literally rip the opponent’s gi and reverse punch the opponent until the referee made him quit. Often times he would make his opponent submit by delivering a side kick that was so powerful that a fighter struck by Lewis would be numb with pain. Many opponents simply ran out of the ring to avoid contact with the young fighter who possessed Herculean-like strength.
His alethic prowess did not go unnoticed. In 1967, the great Bruce Lee sought him out to train under his tutelage. For almost two years, Lewis learned the most advanced martial arts theory of the day directly from the innovative mind of Bruce Lee. When you combine Joe’s natural athleticism with Bruce Lee’s advanced martial theory of Jeet Kune Do you create a fighter the likes of which had never been seen.
In the 1967 Nationals exhibition match between Joe Lewis and legendary karate fighter Tony Tulluners, Bruce Lee was at ring side to coach his new pupil.
“Bruce sat in the front row behind my corner and coached me between each round” recalls Lewis. “That night I used a double side kick that Bruce and I had drilled on that week. I won $300 for that match.” That was considered to be a big payday in 1967. After the win Bruce came up and said, “Joe, that’s the broken rhythm principle I taught you.” Joe Lewis
Because he was seeing immediate results Joe trained exclusively with Bruce in 1968 and 1969. They were close friends. Any opportunity to meet with Bruce was an opportunity to train. Lewis and Lee shared a work ethic that demanded that they train constantly.
“I trained with Bruce sometimes on Wednesdays in a private class, but Bruce and I typically got together on Fridays and Saturdays to train together. I often would get to Bruce’s house in the afternoon and leave about 10pm that night.” Joe Lewis
Joe Lewis is on record stating that while working with Bruce Lee he won 11 tournaments. Joe met Bruce Lee in June, 1967 when he was the grand champion of the Jhoon Rhee US Nationals in Washington, DC. Bruce was a special guest. He met Bruce a second time in October in Los Angeles, CA and agreed to take a few classes with Bruce who was promoting his new style of Jeet Kune Do. A “few lessons” quickly turned into an 18 month apprenticeship. Such was the charisma and teaching power of the young Bruce Lee. Joe visited the Chinatown school in Februrary1968 with Lou Alcindor and Bruce Lee. Afterwards they ate at the local Chinese restaurant. That story was told by Joe on numerous occasions. With Bruce as coach Joe won the May, 1968 US Nationals in Washington, DC. That same year Joe also won the U.S.K.A. Nationals in June in Kansas City, KS. In October, Joe won the Dallas Professional Championships and the US Championships. At the Dallas US Championships Joe presented the first ever JKD seminar to a national roster of black belts. In November 1968 Joe won the World Professional Karate Championships in NYC.
Joe and his then wife Susan would often socialize with Bruce and Linda during 1968/69. Joe continued to train with Bruce Lee in 1969 and under Lee’s coaching Joe won the 1969 US Nationals in Washington, DC in May; The U.S.K.A Nationals in Kansas City, KS, in June and the Long Beach Internationals hosted by Ed Parker in August 1969. Bruce continued to coach Joe for the World Professional Championships in November 1969
“If you look at the facts Mike Stone dominated everything from 1964 to 1965, and then Chuck Norris came along and kind of took over and became even more dominant in 1966-67, and then I took over for the next three or four years. People had to ask. The three most dominant fighters in the history of karate were all endorsing Bruce Lee. – Joe Lewis”
Joe Lewis had trained in the art of Okinawan Karate for less than one year. He trained in Jeet Kune Do for almost two years. More than anyone else Bruce Lee was his teacher. Lewis became dominant in the tournament circuit about the same time he began to train with Bruce Lee. Joe Lewis became the only student of Bruce Lee to win multiple national and world titles while being personally coached by Lee. His sport was karate but his art was Jeet Kune Do.
“We used to sit for hours to analyze boxing films. Some of our favorites were Muhammad Ali, Jack Dempsey—those types. We would study the strategies of different fighters on film, how they bridged the gap or intercepted the opponent’s intentions, and then we would go to tournaments, me and Bruce and watch guys fight, and we would analyze them together. At times, I was like the test tube. If I got into an altercation or I’d go to a tournament: I’d prove whether it worked or not. You can’t have a better setup than that. We would watch boxing on TV and do the same thing, so it’s like a research center, like research laboratory. I thought it was the greatest life that ever existed. And I don’t think there was ever anything like it before or ever will be again.” Joe Lewis
In January 1970 Joe Lewis introduced the modern sport of Kickboxing. Using his Jeet Kune Do Full Contact training he defended his title 10 times earning a record of 10-0 with 10 KOs. That same year Bruce Lee closed his JKD schools and withdrew from the public teaching of Jeet Kune Do. Even without the constant personal communication their friendship endured. Jay T. Will the famous fighter and PKA head referee admitted that in 1970-71 at chance meetings he was often asked by Bruce Lee for information on how Joe was doing. When Bruce was able to develop his own screen project in 1971 he asked Joe Lewis to co-star in the movie. Bruce wanted to reunite with his friend. It never happened. In July 1973 Bruce Lee was found dead.
“Believe me, all those stories and junk coming out about him dying by a delayed death touch and all that stuff was all made up. It was nonsense. I don’t think there was anybody in Hong Kong who could have nailed him with a punch, anyway. By kung-fu standards he was a god; he was the superior master. I always tried to protect Bruce behind his back. When he was alive people put him down. As soon as he died, everybody started talking good about him. “Oh, yeah, I knew Bruce Lee.” “Oh, yeah, Bruce Lee and I were friends.” And those who talked good when he was still alive switched on him when he died. They started putting him down. I never understood that. I always remained consistent. If I felt that I couldn’t afford to tell the truth, I just kept my mouth shut. Like a lot of times when I would be asked in interviews whether Bruce Lee was my instructor, I would always say no, I just didn’t want to deal with it because I knew that I was going to get into all these issues that I didn’t want to talk about. For a while, people would ask me how Bruce would rate as a tournament fighter. Well, I am a tournament fighter, so I can make evaluations objectively. Even so, whenever I would say something about Bruce that someone didn’t like personally so they would read something else into it. I say if you don’t want the truth, don’t ask for it.” Joe Lewis
The actual cause of Lee’s death was never settled. After the passing of Bruce Lee in 1973 Joe Lewis was invited to give a demonstration of Jeet Kune Do on the popular Mike Douglas show. Sometime after the show aired, Joe was advised by film star Zsa Zsa Gabor (who also appeared on the show)that “he should work on his own publicity and not get too closely identified with Bruce Lee’s fame.” Remember this was in 1973. No one could know then how famous Bruce Lee would become. In contrast Bruce’s other students actually gained publicity being associated with the Bruce Lee name.
“After Bruce died I heard a film producer in Hollywood say: His death was like a two-million-dollar publicity campaign. And Warner Brothers milked it for all it was worth. Other than Ted Wong, Bruce never let me train with his other students. So I basically kept away from any close association with the Bruce Lee guys.” Joe Lewis
Linda Lee (Caldwell) and Joe remained friends after Bruce’s passing. In 1974-75 they had traveled together with members of the American team throughout Europe and the US to promote the American full-contact methods. At Joe’s final seminar in 2011 Linda came to give her support. In her talk she recalled the many times Bruce and Joe trained together at their home or met-up on the road. According to writer Rob Colasanti “At one point, she began describing a rebellious, headstrong, young man who had no intention of following the conventional norms of the martial arts—a visionary, if you will. She continued to describe this person’s character in detail, as if slowly painting a picture on a canvas, one brushstroke at a time. Then, she asked the audience,
“Can you guess if I’m talking about Bruce Lee or Joe Lewis?” She paused for a moment and then said, “I’m talking about both.”
“Joe Lewis and Bruce Lee are forever linked by a common bond of excellence.” Linda Lee Caldwell