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Original JEET KUNE DO Hits Bristol (Backoff Martial Arts) Charlie McGibney and Paris Elton

Alex: Hi Guys, please introduce your selves.

Paris: Hi, I’m Paris Elton. Third generation Original JKD instructor at Jeet Kune Do Bristol/BackOff club.

Charlie: I’m Charlie McGibney, also a third generation Original Jeet Kune Do instructor/partner of the club.

A: And I’m here interviewing these JKD masters. I say masters; you guys may not like to call your selves masters. I know some people prefer to be called teachers?

P: Yeah, teachers or instructor.

C: Definitely not masters, instructors, but still students.

A: Always.

C: Always!

A: What first interested you guys in martial arts?

P: Well, it was when I was younger. Every weekend my Dad would bring back a few Kung Fu films, like Jackie Chan films, and I just really enjoyed them. I didn’t realize you could learn it, at the time. That’s what got me into it.

A: So as a kid you were really enthralled by Jackie Chan?

P: Yeah, I liked the dubbing as well. I always found that very amusing, in a good way.

C: For myself, I was quite a small skinny kid to start with. So, it was just finding a way to empower myself and stand up for myself was how I got into it. I did Judo for a bit as a kid and Karate.

A: Both very different. So you were very keen to get more confidence?

A: Was that in your teens?

P: With me, because I watched the films, it wasn’t until later that I started. I had a bit of trouble with a gang, near where I lived, so I thought I needed to do something about this, to give me a bit of confidence if anything goes really bad. So I watch Enter the Dragon every night for about three months, then I thought right, it’s time to go and find something, and I found Taekwondo. It was very different, but I didn’t know what Bruce Lee’s art was at the time. And you probably didn’t either, did you?

C: No. I actually found Taekwondo as well, when I was fourteen. It was mainly from seeing Van Damme on the screen, and the way he put his whole persona in to it. I just thought, wow! His screen presence just blew my mind. And obviously his incredible kicks and agility

A: So, tell us about BackOff.

Charlie: We’ve been training JKD for over twenty years and teaching for fifteen, so created Back Off Martial Arts together, to unite our different but complimentary teaching styles, skills and knowledge.

P: As well as JKD, we have experience in Wing Chun. Thai Boxing, Boxing, Fencing, Choy Le Fut, Shaolin, Jujitsu, MMA and Krav Maga. We’re currently offering Jeet Kune Do four times a week in four different venues across Bristol.

C: The aim is to give people simple, practical skills and tools, which they can use to protect themselves. So should the worst happen, they’ve got something to rely on, and at the same time, teaching that it’s the last thing you should do. Walk away if at all possible, but if you have to fight, really fight!

Alex: Yes, I think that’s a good philosophy.

 C: We want to give people the whole experience, the spiritual side of things, the philosophy behind it, the health, the fitness everything.

P: I enjoy the traditional sides of Tai chi, Shaolin, the breathing techniques and Qi Gong, which I got from experiences in China. I think it’s important for people to do, meditation especially.

A: Maybe you’ll teach that later.

P: I don’t do enough of it myself, but when I do, suddenly life’s ten times better. It gets rid of all the rubbish going on in the mind, and you have space and quietness and you can go about your life and it feels like this is how it’s meant to be.

A: It’s amazing how much quieter the world is after only five or ten minutes meditation.

P: But how hard it is to do and yet it’s such a simple thing. That’s what I find so puzzling.

C: That’s so true!

P: To just sit there and do nothing for five minutes. It’s such a hard thing to do.

C: That’s why it’s so hard, because it feels like you’re not doing anything, so therefore you’re not meditating, but actually it is that not doing anything that is meditation.

P: Yeah, a bit of peace in the craziness.

A: Absolutely, it’s all important. Certainly, doing martial arts pushed me and other people I know, into taking the time to do things like meditation.

P: Yeah! There’s a general progression. I think the Shaolin say “through war you find peace”.

A: Yes.

P: And it’s the same sort of idea, you go through that aggressive part and you’re training hard and while on the journey, you find your spiritual side.

C: To live you have to die. That’s the ultimate thing, isn’t it. People want to live but are afraid to die, but you have to die to live, because then you go through that hardship and come out the other side. Comes full circle.

P: The aim is to be a white belt, really, not a black belt.

C: I think that’s true. It’s so easy to get your black belt and then stop, then think, oh I’m a black belt that means that in two years time, even though I’m not practicing or training, it’ll protect me, but the reality is unless you’re always training and it’s always a part of you and you’re always staying sharp, keeping some continuity going with the martial arts, then I think that’s the danger. We’re always students, always growing and always more to learn.

A: I think that really is a great philosophy to have in a class. Particularly since you guys are teaching people how to kick ass, but also at the same time you’re saying it’s the last thing you do. You should walk away first, try and talk your way our of it, but then if you’re left with no other choice…

P: That’s it. I’ve had a couple of situations. I remember a guy came at me, I didn’t get the guy, but I think he could see in my eyes that if he moved, I was ready, and then he just walked away, then came back and apologized later.

A: I think that confidence that comes from doing martial arts and from feeling confident within yourself, really shows. So if someone is starting on you on the street, saying you this, you that, and if you just calmly stand there and say ‘look I really don’t want to do this’, they start thinking ‘what’s this guy doing, we’re clearly bigger and in his way…’

C: Yeah. They think, ‘ah, why isn’t he giving me the reaction I want?’

A: Exactly. I think that can…

C: Throw them.

A: Yeah! Throw them, undermine them slightly, but you’re not being aggressive as well, therefore you don’t have two balances knocking into each other.

C: That’s the thing, because obviously there are legal issues with some of the stuff we do, that’s why we tell people that you don’t want to use this stuff, it’s designed to shut someone down, to end it, break a leg, take their eye, take their groin, it’s not just sport fighting, the aim is to disable and to finish it as soon as possible, then get the hell out of there. You don’t want to be standing around, especially with multiple attackers. There are so many different variables; it’s always best to just go, as soon as you get the advantage.

A: I think that’s what every martial arts school should teach, but in some of the more modern martial arts…

C: It seems to be lost.

A: Exactly! And I think it’s important for people to know that a lot of what we see in martial arts films is a fantasy.

C: Yes, the majority of situations you see in films are not realistic, as they’re choreographed, and don’t represent free flowing combat.

A: So there can be quite a lot of politics in martial arts. Where are you guys on that?

C: We’re not at all interested in politics, as JKD certainly has a lot of that. We don’t get involved in that side of it. We encourage anyone of any system, any background to come train with us and we’re confident with whatever they’ve done before, we can help them. Because it’s all there, just simple practical ways of moving and the science of JKD, which I meant to say earlier. There are three facets of JKD; so you’ve got the philosophy, or theory, you’ve got the physical art and you’ve got the science, if you haven’t got the science then you haven’t got things like hitting with the longest weapon to the nearest target, so dominance of front hand/foot striking. Shortest distance between to objects is a straight line, that’s a fundamental truth and that’s why Jeet Kune Do is as applicable now as it was forty years ago, when Bruce Lee was coming up with it, because science doesn’t change. We’ve got two arms, two legs and his idea was to use what we’ve got in the most efficient way. And that’s what we do, isn’t it?

P: Yeah, definitely!

A: Would you say JKD is one of the more efficient martial arts?

P: Definitely, that’s what it’s all about; being the most efficient with your hands, then if you can find anything else that helps you become more efficient, then you use that.

A: One of the things I’ve heard about Jeet Kune Do, which I liked, is that it encourages people to use what they’ve already got, and then JKD will enhance that with it’s own style and from that you make it your own.

C: That’s true, but one thing I’d say about that is, yes, but you express it through the ‘tools’ of JKD, so depending on whether you’re left hander or right hander, tall, short, fat, skinny, attributes of being naturally fast or more sensitive, that’s your personal expression. So you’re still using the ‘tools’, you’re still using the lead punch, the finger jab, the back fist, low level kicks, because they’re all there. Bruce Lee critically looked at many different styles and systems, taking elements from these. That’s the key. It’s elements of different arts, not just piling arts on top of arts, technique on top of technique. JKD primarily consists of boxing, fencing, savate kickboxing, wing chun and elements of other Chinese arts. Ultimately, the ‘tools’ are the refinements of JKD, so if you don’t have these tools, which are the physical art side, then you don’t have JKD. So, it’s not just a case of taking anything to apply it and call it JKD, because it’s not. You have to have the physical art, the science and philosophy for it to truly be Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.

A: Ok, I see.

C: And then if you’re always guided by that art, philosophy and science, economy of motion, directness, efficiency, then you can’t go far wrong.

P: It might be changed a tiny bit, but it will still be very similar to the basics of what it is.

A: Obviously you’ve got to be adaptable and flexible, but if there are such set tools and structures to it and a such a well-established foundation of this art, how can it be enhanced or added to, as Tommy Caruthers did, while abiding by it’s principles?

P: Changing the drills that you do and the way that you do it, becoming more efficient, cut the motion down, become better at timing and distance. It’s refining.

C: It’s problem solving.

P: Yeah. It’s about finding a way to ‘catch’ them; if they’re moving back, I’ll go forward, if they’re moving forward, I’ll go to the side or back. Contract and expand, like what you’d learn in sparring.

C: Exactly. It’s about tactics. Again, without that, you don’t have Jeet Kune Do.

P: You have to go through the tools, and then if you wanted to you can get rid of them. But it is what holds it together.

C: That’s where we differ in opinion. Which is cool.

A: Well, a different opinion’s great.

P: But you can’t just call anything JKD. It’s like a plane on a runway; once you take off, you can then decide to go your own way.

A: But you need the tools to be able to take off.

P: Yeah! That’s the way I like to look at it.

A: It’s a good analogy.

P: I do like the way Bruce Lee has allowed people to be a bit freer and to research other styles, and find their own; that’s a good thing. It’s just when they call it JKD, when they haven’t actually learnt it.

C: Yeah. You need the art, the science, and the philosophy.

P: It might be a JKD type thing…

C: But it’s not Bruce Lees.

P: Exactly. And then it’s bad to say the name, because Bruce Lee wanted to get rid of naming things. But it has got a name.

A: There always seem to be these little contradictions in martial arts. Philosophies, you’re not supposed to say this and yet there is this rule.

P: It’s a Buddhist thing, I think. Finding the middle of the two. 

A: It’s balance.

P: Balance, yeah.

C: But then in JKD it’s having no way as way, so no set way, which is important. So we’re not saying you can’t, there are no definites to say you can’t, there are never any definites in a fight.

P: There’s wrong, but there’s no right. That’s a good one.

A: One of the best things I’ve learnt through Wing Chun, which also helps me in other things is; invest in losing.

P: Absolutely.

A: Because when I’m sparring or in a fight situation, I’ll be tense or stiff, because I want to win, or at least I don’t want to lose.

P: So your mind’s tense.

A: Exactly. I’m thinking way too far ahead, and I’m not being present.

C: We talk about that all the time. It’s about being in the now, and in life you want to be in the now, you never want to be thinking about the outcome of something or worried about the past. I think as humans we’re constantly battling that. That sense of what might happen, because you don’t want to make a mistake, but if you just let it be and let it flow… Again, Jeet Kune Do.

A: It’s hard to have the philosophy of not wanting to get hit or not wanting to lose, but I might, and having that ‘I don’t want to’ can keep you out of danger, but also having the ‘I might’ makes you realize that I can get close to this person and I have a chance gives you that balance of fear and confidence.

C: And by being hit, you realize it’s not as bad as you think, and that you can take a punch. And you learn from every encounter, every time you fall down you should try and learn from experience and think about why you fell. And that’s really how Jeet Kune Do was forged.

P: Obviously Bruce Lee had lots of fights, so he got to test what works what doesn’t work. I knew this guy when I worked in a Chinese take away, who been in a lot of fights in Taiwan, and they weren’t just any fighters but other martial artists, and he used to teach me a few moves. Basically what he said was every time he fought them, he would think how can I get them quicker next time; what did I do wrong how could I get them better, and each time he would simplify it.

C: Yeah, he J-K-D –ified it!

P: Yeah, he Jeetified it!!!!!

C: I like that! “Jeetified”!

A: So, is there anything you’d like to say about your school?

C: Yeah, we run four classes a week, all different locations, all fairly central to Bristol. It’s free for everyone to try, and we encourage people to come along and have a go. If it’s for them great, if not, they’ve lost nothing. We’re doing a fantastic new years offer for January; £40 for all four classes a week (sixteen classes a month in total). This is to encourage people to train more, without spending a fortune. “The more you train, the better you get, and the more instinctive IT becomes!”

C: We post regularly; Jeet Kune Do Bristol is our Facebook page and group, and backoff.club is our instagram and website.

P: That has all the information about what we do, when we do it, prices. You can book that way or just contact us, if you’re interested.

C: Yes, if anyone’s interested please feel free to drop us a line, a phone call; an email, it’d be great to hear from you. The website’s under construction, we’ve just got a landing page at the moment.

A: I looked up your Facebook page, and there’s loads of information there. All the information I needed when I was interested in the class. Well, that’s all from me. Thank you both very much.

C: Thank you, it’s been great.

P: Yes, thank you very much.

Check out their website here Jeet Kune Do Bristol http://backoff.club/