A bit of “Hollywood Spin” says Wong Jackman challenged Bruce Lee to prevent him from teaching non-Chinese. In previous movies, and books, this story line has been used to make Bruce Lee appear more heroic. Lee appears more heroic because he is fighting for the right to teach non Caucasians. Every movie about Bruce Lee’s life has followed this story as the reason for his fight with Wong Jackman. So how did the newly released “Birth of a Dragon” starring Phillip Ng, and Xia Yu, portray the source of the fight?
In “Birth of a Dragon”, the third lead actor is Billy Magnussen, who plays Steve McGee, a character inspired by real life actor, Steve McQueen. In real life, Steve McQueen did take lessons from Bruce Lee. In the movie, “Birth of a Dragon”, Bruce Lee thinks Wong has been sent by the Shaolin temple to prevent him from sharing the deadly secrets of Kung Fu in the West. As the story unfolds, Bruce Lee realizes that Wong was not sent to stop him from teaching non Chinese. Instead, it is revealed Wong is doing penance for injuring a Tai Chi boxer in a demonstration match. This leads Lee to reevaluate Wong, and his encounters with him, and begins to build trust between them.
In the movie, “Birth of a Dragon”, the issue of Steve McGee being non Chinese, does come up. McGee asks Wong to teach him. Wong immediately asks if McGee already has a teacher. It is reasonable for Wong, to think McGee might have a teacher. Otherwise, why would he know that Wong was coming? and be interested to meet him? Wong asks, because it is polite. It is Wu De, or martial ethics.
The technicalities of killing efficiently are military techniques used by soldiers. Merely learning the technicalities of killing is not martial arts at all. The essence of martial arts is becoming a stronger person able to make moral choices in difficult circumstances and protect yourself and your family. In the world of martial artists, the bond between teacher and student is sacred. The essence of the student – teacher bond is the Heart to Heart connection between them. This is the connection that helps a student to grow and transcend themselves, rather than merely learning technical knowledge.
If you are trying to break apart this relationship, this Heart to Heart connection, that is considered to be disrespectful to both the teacher, and the student. Teachers should put the interests of the students growth first. Heart to Heart relationships are not easy to create, or maintain. Heart to Heart connections take time, and trust, to build. Breaking this relationship is similar to, but obviously lesser than, interfering in a marriage.
If the student leaves the teacher without interference, or influence, then it is fine. In general, the best student teacher relationships occur when the student seeks out the teacher on their own, or encounters them thru the lucky chance of fate, or destiny. When another teacher is trying to aggressively recruit the students of another teacher this does not create the most successful student teacher relationships. It can become so negative, that many students give up martial arts all together, and forego any future benefits they might have gained. This is a loss for those students. The correct way for a student to study with more than one teacher is ask the permission of each teacher first. Typically, a teacher would grant permission when their student has learned a lot, but could still absorb more instruction. Then, a teacher might introduce a top student to his friends, and associates, to round out the students experience. In almost all cases, studying until you have achieved some real skill, and understanding, in one system before trying another, is the best idea. and yields the best results.
So when Wong turns down McGee’s first request he is showing good morality, or Wu De, by not accepting another teachers student. He turns down McGee, not because he is Caucasian, but because he already had a “Shifu”, or teacher, Bruce Lee. It is respectful to both Lee, and McGee. McGee does not have the cultural background,, or experience, to understand this, and is confused by the encounter. Wong is also concerned because it sounds like Bruce Lee has a very aggressive teaching style. Learning martial arts just to “kick ass”, and become a “bad ass”, who is respected because everyone is afraid of him is not the real purpose. The purpose of martial arts is not to train thugs, and bullies, it is preserve life, and maintain harmony, in difficult times. Teaching a thug, or bully, martial arts is quite difficult. It isn’t good morals to teach thugs, and bullies, martial arts who might then use those skills to create harm. If someone has become used to training when they are angry, and building up their levels of aggression, they can become dangerous. However, they will also often have trouble controlling that same aggression in normal relationships.
Later, Wong’s criteria is true passion and a noble reason to learn that transcends Steve’s ego. He must have a cause that he would be willing to die for. Steve finds that in the girl he is falling in love with that belongs to the gangsters. This will give him the strength to grow. Lee has also turned down McGee’s request for help in freeing the girl. This began breaking down their teacher – student relationship, so McGee is free to look elsewhere.
There is quite a bit of nuanced depth to these encounters that exposes the sentiments of martial artists and nature of Wu De martial virtue.
In real, life Wong Jackman moved to the United States to teach traditional Kung Fu in line with the open, and non secretive, philosophy of the Ching Wu Association. From the beginning of Wong Jackman’s teaching career he happily accepted non Chinese. In fact, many of his top students were, and are from a variety of races, and ethnicities. The only students he would not accept were gangsters. The idea that he would refrain from teach non Chinese because of racism is contrary to the plainly observed facts.