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Interview with Sam Allred

Sam Allred with Steve McQueen

In Bruce Lee's life, one of the most important and discussed in the world of martial arts, are his legendary martial arts performances at Ed Parker's Longbeach International Karate Championships. Bruce only ever made two appearances, the first in 1964 which helped him land the role of 'Kato' in the 'Green Hornet' US television series, and the second in 1967 where he presented his art of Jeet Kune Do, performed his legendary one inch punch and incorporated full contact sparring for the first time (see pictures to the left). The following interview with Sam Allred was conducted on the 21st January, 2004 (over 35 years later). As you will see, this interview reveals fascinating insight in to Bruce's 1967 Longbeach performance and contains a truly amazing surprise for all fans of Bruce Lee......

1/ Could you please tell me how you got involved in the martial arts?

I joined a judo club that when I was still in high school (1953--ouch!), and continued my practice of judo until I reached 4th dan. During that time I attended a karate tournament in Albuquerque. A wall partition started falling toward the spectators. I put up my hands to stop it but noticed that the man next to me did an upward block to stop it. After visiting with him for awhile, I discovered that he was the Kajukenbo instructor for Kirtland Air Force Base, located in Albuquerque. He permitted me to attend his classes for four years, until I was promoted to 1st degree black belt in Kajukenbo. That instructor was (and is) Don Nahoolewa, a student of Aleju Reyes who was Adriano Emperado’s “right hand man.” Emperado is the founder of Kajukenbo. The Board of Directors of Kajukenbo's governing body, the International Kajukenbo Association, and the Board of Directors of the American Kajukembo Association have since promoted me to higher rank...

2/ Your 8mm film of Bruce Lee's performance at the Longbeach Championships in 1967 is a very rare and historic record of Bruce's life. Could you please describe what the atmosphere was like that day and how was Bruce's performance received by all those attending?

In those days I was a part of the martial arts “inner circle,” so to speak, so I just walked onto the main area with some of my friends and sat on the floor at ringside with my 8mm movie camera. I went specifically to see Bruce, because my esteemed friend, Wally Jay, had spoken so highly of him. In those days, prior to digital and video tape equipment, the best movie film for indoor use was ASA 400 black and white film, so that’s what I purchased for the camera to film Bruce’s demonstration. I was not in the audience, so I can’t remember any audience reaction. Afterward of course, I heard no one speak of the demo who had not been impressed.

3/ If you can remember, could you please describe in detail what Bruce's full performance consisted of that day? (e.g. full contact sparring, blindfold demo, one inch punch etc)

I remember nothing that is not well-documented. As I recall, Bruce did his “one inch punch,” his “unblockable” quick punch, his finger-tip pushups, a bit of close-in Wing Chun sparring, and some full contact sparring with protective gear. Two of his demonstrations that I filmed are on my website -- the fingertip pushups and the “1-inch” power punch.

4/ And finally about that day, what were your first impressions of Bruce Lee as a martial artist?

I had been in hopes of seeing Bruce ever since hearing Wally Jay talk about his virtues, expounding on the small cha cha cha instructor who had such a powerful upper body and was so fast that his kick or punch could lift a man into the air and throw him several feet backwards. Whose punch from only an inch or so could do the same. Wally built Bruce up so much that I really doubted if anyone could be so effective. On the other hand, Wally had been spent a lifetime in the martial arts and had seen it all, so he was never overly impressed with demonstrations of martial arts ability. He definitely was very impressed with this young dance instructor who was also teaching the martial arts. He had told me a great deal about Bruce, who had become his friend. So, seeing the demonstration only reinforced what I had already expected, and validated Wally's comments.

5/ What was his real personality like in your eyes from the occasions that you met him?

I should say that only knew him casually, but we visited personally on quite a few occasions, mostly during Ed Parker’s tournaments and at gatherings before and after the tournaments. I really did like Bruce a lot, and I believe he liked me. He was to me very friendly and energetic, always smiling, loving to be the center of attention, playful, and willing or even eager to show me things I asked to see.

He enjoyed being “Bruce Lee.” Once in conversation, he confided that it irritated him when people would stop him on the street to show him their kata, but I believe he probably got a kick out of even these antics. In 1968 I was asked to present a lecture at the “International Conference of the Martial Arts”, and Bruce took a seat on the back row. He did everything he could to distract me from making my presentation, making faces and gestures, sticking out his tongue...kidding around. Really likable.

When he died, Black Belt Magazine asked me to spend some time in Los Angeles interviewing his friends and students, such as James Coburn, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Ted Ashley, Stirling Silliphant, Fred Weintraub, Van Williams, Chuck Norris, Mike Stone, Linda Lee, Bob Wall, James Franciscus, and Wally Jay--which I did. Later, also through martial arts circles, I became a good friend of Steve McQueen, and occasionally spoke with him about Bruce. Steve was not a student of Bruce’, but they were very close friends. From all of that, I learned a lot of significant facts and personal things about Bruce, much of which is in the book Bruce Lee 1940-1973, probably still sold by Black Belt Magazine. Mito Uyehara, founder and owner of Black Belt Magazine at the time, gave me permission to use the information to write a book in Spanish -- I now live in Mexico. It has been a popular book, now in its 13th printing I think. It is of interest that after having written about Bruce, I sent information about his birth date and birth place to a well-known astrologer...with no name. Although I still really don’t believe in astrology, the information that came back was almost exactly what I had learned about Bruce by giving all the interviews.

6/ You've had the pleasure to interview a lot of people who knew Bruce including the famous movie actors Steve McQueen & James Coburn. What were their opinions on Bruce as a human being and martial artist please?

I didn’t actually “interview” Steve for the book about Bruce...someone else did....so our conversations were not intended for publication, and usually took place over a beer. Steve never studied with Bruce, but later began Tang Soo Do with fine instructor and movie choreographer Pat Johnson. Steve was a very close personal friend of Bruce’, and a pallbearer at Bruce’s funeral. He thoroughly respected Bruce as a person and as a friend, and correctly considered Bruce to be brilliant. Bruce often shared his theories and philosophies with Steve, and Steve thought of Bruce as the master of life as well as of the martial arts.

I interviewed James Coburn in his beautiful Hollywood home. His interview was the most dramatic of those which I gave. When he talked of such things as Bruce’s hitting power, he would illustrate--and with sound effects...bang, whap! He studied regularly with Bruce for nearly three years, and thought Bruce was the ONLY true martial artist.. He admired Bruce for all the right reasons; Bruce’s martial arts knowledge and skill, his ways of thinking and behaving, his intelligence, his tota l obsession with the martial arts and his ability to relate the martial arts to all other aspects of life, his self esteem. To Coburn, Bruce was lacking in the ability to deal with the incredible successes he had achieved. He said that Bruce was lacking in acting skills, although he recognized Bruce’s performances in movies as genius. He said that Bruce was the Nuyen or Nijinsky of the martial arts because he could, unlike most actors in fight scenes, do the martial arts to perfection, with charisma, and with amazing talent and imagination.

7/ Lastly, do you think that you will ever release your 8mm film of Bruce's performance so that all fans can witness this historic event in all its glory?

Sure. Why not? I turned down a substantial financial offer from a production company that wanted to use the footage as part of a documentary which included things that I don’t believe Bruce would have especially cared to be associated with. If used by others, I would like it to be in an appropriate way. For now, it is readily available to fans of Bruce on my web site. Please click the link provided below.

Kajukenbo

I would like to thank Sam once again for his wonderful time and effort in regards to this interview. His 8mm film of Bruce Lee's performance at Ed Parker's Longbeach Karate Championships in 1967 is unique, and more importantly, a historic and truthful account of Bruce's real life skills in the world of martial arts. I sincerely hope that this treasure will one day be shared with everyone.

Interview conducted by Nick Clarke (Jan 2004)