When most people think of the Bruce Lee's Seattle era, names such as Taky Kimura, Jesse Glover, and Jim DeMile immediately come to mind. One person often over looked with immense knowledge of Lee's art as it was taught in the early sixties is Doug Palmer. A lawyer by profession, Palmer met Lee before his evolution, and later experienced the art we now know as Jeet Kune Do on a trip to Honk Kong in 1972. One aspect that sets Palmer apart from any other student is the fact he actually spent a summer with Bruce in Hong Kong where he met the late Yip Man and many of Lee's classmates. Palmer's experiences with Lee were entertaining to say the least and he fondly remembers how language barriers among other things made for an interesting stay with Sijo Lee and his family.
The Doug Palmer Interview
Conducted By Paul J. Bax
HOW AND WHEN DID YOU FIRST MEET BRUCE LEE?
DOUG PALMER: I met him during the summer of 1961 in Seattle. Ever year we have a Seafair race out in Seattle, and there are a lot of community activities leading up to that event. I met Bruce at a Japanese community festival.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF HIM?
DP: He had a very strong personality. I actually had seen him prior to this event. I saw him a week before at a Chinese community fair where he was giving a demonstration. I was awe-struck by his speed and power. I wanted to meet him.
SO IT WAS HIS DEMONSTRATION THAT MADE YOU WANT TO BECOME ONE OF HIS STUDENTS?
DP: Yeah. I told him I wanted to study gung fu with him. I had been boxing ever since the fifth grade or so, but this was something totally different than I had ever seen before. I was fascinated, so I asked if I could study with him, and he told me to come to the next class. If I was still interested, he said we would talk about it.
DID YOU DISCUSS BOXING?
DP: Yeah, we talked about boxing. He had a lot of movies of famous fights that he watched, and studied. We never sparred with gloves or anything. He had done that in a fight or two in Hong Kong. He wasn't particularly interested in boxing (at this point in his training), and I was interested in learning gung fu from him.
DID YOU HAVE ANY PRIOR MARTIAL ARTS EXPERIENCE?
DP: Other than the boxing, no.
WHAT WERE THE CLASSES LIKE BACK THEN?
DP: It was very informal. Most of the the students were older guys, except for a kid who was twelve, and myself. I was 17 at the time. Classes were held out in the backyard of one of the student's homes. We used to go out, and do exercises, spar, etc. At some point during the year we started training in a parking garage that was close to where Bruce was living. It was covered, but it was not indoor.
IT'S BEEN SAID BRUCE TOOK WHAT HE THOUGHT WAS USEFUL AND INCORPORATED IT INTO WING CHUN. WAS THAT THE CASE?
DP: Yes, but the first year was mostly Wing Chun. After I graduated from high school, I went off to college, but I would came back for vacations, and so forth. It was while I was in college that Bruce really started incorporating other things, and evolving. It wasn't Wing Chun anymore. It was what he eventually called Jeet Kune Do.
DID YOU HEAR THE TERM JEET KUNE DO IN THOSE DAYS?
DP: No, I don't recall exactly when I first heard that. It was certainly not in 1962, or 63 when I was taking it. He was definitely evolving during this time. Every time I came back he had everything he taught before, and another layer on top of it. It was not Wing Chun. He was watching boxing movies, and fights from Dempsey, or Sugar Ray Robinson over and over and would take elements from them. It wasn't like he was just taking a move from, he was doing something more fundamental than that. He was looking at principles, or approaches he could use.
DID YOU GET TO KNOW LINDA (LEE) EMERY AT THE TIME OF YOUR TRAINING?
DP: I actually knew her in high school. She was a year younger than me.
THE SEATTLE PERIOD IS KNOWN FOR IT'S EMPHASIS ON CONDITIONING THE BODY. WHAT WERE SOME OF THE TRAINING METHODS?
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