Reality-Based founder hanging out with the King of Kata? What’s up with that?
By Jim Wagner
Anyone who has been in the martial arts for any length of time knows who the King of Kata is. It can only be one man – Eric Lee. On Sunday, January 24, 2016 I was introduced to Eric, and we spend the whole day and evening together, and we are now friends.
My long time friend Dr. Jose Luis Hinojosa, M.D. was at a medical conference for three days in Santa Monica, California – in my neck of the woods from January 22 to 24 in Santa Monica. Jose-Luis and I met when we were young, very young, learning from Bruce Lee’s protégé Dan Inosanto the systems of Filipino Kali, Wing Chun, and Jeet Kune Do at the Aspen Academy of Martial Arts. That was the summer of 1977, which is almost 39 years ago.
Sunday was the only day that I could visit with Jose-Luis, and so I drove from my home to his hotel in the morning just before lunchtime. When I got there he said, “Jim, let’s go have lunch right now, and afterwards my good friend Eric Lee, and his friend Sy, are going to meet us and show us around and then take us to the IMPROV in Hollywood this evening.”
I was all for that, and after lunch, when Jose Luis and I were walking on the Santa Monica Pier, being tourists, we got a call from Eric letting us know that he and Sy had arrived. The hotel is only a block from the beach, and so we met up with him and Sy in only several minutes and took off on an adventure.
Right from the start I liked Eric. He is a hospitable, humorous, and a very kind man. Ever since my youth I had known all about him, and it was an honor to meet this martial arts legend. Eric had been born in Canton, China. When he immigrated to the United States he met Bruce Lee, and at East Bay in 1967 Bruce Lee would watch him train. It wasn’t long until Eric was a well-known martial arts competitor on the tournament circuit winning over 100 world titles. Although his fame came from being the best in the world for Katas (solo choreographed fighting moves), being the undefeated forms and weapons champion from 1970 to 1974, many criticized him over the years saying that he didn’t really know how to fight, and that he was just a performer. To prove them wrong he also entered sparing competitions, and the results were the same – he was always a winner.
When Eric Lee retired from competition he became an actor and martial arts chorographer for the film industry. This is where he became friends with Cynthia Rothrock, Don Wilson, Gene LeBell, and other martial arts greats. He also was a founding co-member of World Blackbelt along with Chuck Norris and Bob Wall. Of course, he had been a friend with our mutual friend Jose Luis Hinojosa.
Eric Lee, our “tour guide and chauffeur,” took us to the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades. It is a ten-acre site that has a spring-fed lake. It is a facility dedicated to all world religions, and people go there to meditate, enjoy the garden, or pray. Practically living my whole life in Southern California I had never visited this place before, even though it has been opened to the public since 1950. One of the things I found most interesting there was a Peace Memorial that had a portion of ashes of India’s Mahatma Gandhi. However, I was glad to see a memorial at the site to my faith – Christianity.
While Eric was showing us all around Santa Monica and Brentwood, the neighborhood he used to live in, he said to me, “Jim, many times people come up to me and ask, ‘Eric, what is your favorite weapon?’ Do you know what I always tell them? I answer, ‘A rocket launcher with a GPS guidance system.” He told this joke knowing I was the founder Reality-Based Self-Defense movement. I laughed at his joke, and I knew that he understood that times are changing, and after that we talk a bit about modern crime and terrorism facing the world today. We could relate to each other because he had be the recipient of the Armed Forces Appreciation Award, and he even helped with some self-defense programs immediately following 9/11.
Eric Lee was very interested in what I teach, and when he took us to the Golden Dragon restaurant in China Town, in the center of Los Angeles, he asked more questions about my system. He had eight other guests at his table, and they were all delightful to talk to.
After dinner we had a few minutes to go across the street and look at the 7-foot (2.13 meters) Bruce Lee bronze statue erected in June 17, 2013 for the 40th anniversary of the superstar’s death (he died at the age of 32 in 1973), and the 75th anniversary of Los Angeles Chinatown.
Immediately after that Eric Lee drove us over to the Hollywood IMPROV to enjoy a comedy show. It was enjoyable, we got to see radio talk show host Sheena Metal interview actress Lee Meriwether (who was Catwoman in the 1966 Batman movie and co-stared with Buddy Ebsen in the television series Barnaby Jones), Dawn Wells (who played Mary Ann in Gilligan’s Island), Alison Arngrim (who played the mean nasty little girl Nellie on Little House on the Prairie) and he co-star Lindsey Greenbush (the smallest child on Little House on the Prairie), and Susan Olsen (who played Cindy Brady on The Brady Bunch). Normally, they just have one comedian do a show at the IMPROV, but on that night we saw several stars.
Over the years I’ve had a lot of traditional-based martial artists criticize me stating that I don’t respect the traditional martial arts. Obviously this is a false assumption, for I came from a traditional-based background with my first arts starting with Korean Tae Kwon Do, then Japanese Karate Rybu-Kai, Judo, then Chinese Kung-fu, and on from there. I have no disrespect for the traditional martial arts, it’s just that I saw their limitations when I became a combat soldier, then a corrections officer, a street cop, SWAT officer, diplomatic bodyguard, couterterrorist, military police soldier, security forces soldier, and an instructor. When criminals and terrorist try to kill you, you learn very quickly what really works and what doesn’t in self-defense. My friend Jose-Luis loves Tae Kwon Do, even to this day. But he is smart enough to take Reality-Based Personal Protection courses to survive attacks not covered in Tae Kwon Do. Eric is a world champion, but he knows there is a difference between competition and conflict. Now, if I disrespected the traditional martial arts I would not have hung out all day and evening with Eric Lee who is the personification of traditional martial arts. But, it is because I respect the traditional martial arts, and Eric, that it was an absolute delight spending time with him and getting to know him. I wrote years ago in Black Belt magazine that there are three branches of the martial arts, and they all serve their own purpose: traditional-based martial arts, sport-based martial arts, and reality-based martial arts (“martial” means “war,” thus war arts, and I’ve put the war back into the martial arts with the Reality-Based Personal Protection system).
BE A HARD TARGET.
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