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Remembering Our Inspiration, Our Teacher, Our Friend

Words by Mike Gittleson
Photo credits: Mike Gittleson, John MacClean, Bill Mattuci, Mikael Egideus

Whenever we hear those words ‘Man on a mission’, we picture a man determined to reach his goals at whatever cost-- a man pushing through every road block and obstacle in his way. Many times, a man with no scruples or remorse for whom he may have to step on in order to achieve his means. Ted Wong was a man who put a new definition to the words. He pushed forward, not looking back, but did it in the most honorable and non-self promoting way anyone could.

Ted Wong met Bruce Lee in 1967. He quickly became Bruce’s student, sparring partner, and most importantly, one of Bruce’s closest friends. Mr. Wong spent many hours training with Bruce, learning the art of Jeet Kune Do. After Bruce’s death, he continued to train on his own uncovering more and more of Bruce’s secrets. I believe the more he looked into and practiced, the more he understood the art and therefore, Bruce. The bond between Bruce and Ted Wong was undeniable.

The mission began in the early 1990′s. Ted had been practicing JKD for almost 20 years at that point and had personal invested interest in it as well as his promise to Bruce to keep it pure. He started seeing martial arts magazine articles written about JKD that didn’t resemble JKD as he knew it. I’m sure there was an internal struggle within him, deciding what to do. Ted Wong was a private person and not an egotistical man. JKD was something that was shared between himself and Bruce, and up until then, he had only trained a few people in what he knew. The articles continued and Ted decided to act. He took on more students, started doing seminars, and began writing articles for magazines himself.

As his mission continued, he did it in a way that displayed his character. He refused to bad mouth or belittle others. He never spoke of ‘this is right, that is wrong’. He only displayed his own skill in a way that no one could deny that it had come from Bruce. Ted’s technique was fast, powerful, and efficient.

Ted Wong was a wonderful man in many ways. Personally, he had many interests. I remember times sitting at his house talking about his Dendrobium Orchid, that would never stop blooming; His California desert Tortoise that he had in his back yard; His fruit trees that he loved when they produced; and his guitar. He loved to play Spanish Flamenco guitar. I asked him to play for me a couple of times but he never did. He told me “my guitar playing is just for me.” Others have told me that he played for them and that he was quite good, which I’m sure was the case.

His skill in the martial arts was irrefutable. I was amazed from the first time I saw him move. I asked him once how often he practiced, he told me “you need to practice all the time because you are learning. I just practice enough to keep my edge.” I knew that he trained physically by running and other methods but even though I knew his integrity, I started to doubt that he didn’t practice much. I swear, every time I saw him, he was better than he had been before. This was the case for almost 20 years!

He spent most of his time, thinking and reading about JKD. Anytime I went to see him, he would pull out a text, either Bruce’s writings, a boxing book, or a fencing text. He would take me through the pages and showed me where Bruce was going and why JKD was the way it was. Ted was a scholar. It was beautiful to see and extremely inspiring. He never stopped thinking about JKD and honoring his lost friend. He was in love with the art just as I am.

His mission has paid off. He spent the last 20 years teaching, writing, and doing seminars so the generations to come will know the beauty of JKD as taught to him by Bruce Lee. Ted left us with knowledge that we could not have found on our own. He dove in with both feet, took the world by the horns, and gave us a gift that we will never be able to repay him for.

Ted Wong’s passing on Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 left me speechless and deeply sad. I know there are those who may have been closer to him, but to me, he was a friend as well as my teacher. I learned so much from him in the martial arts, but he also taught me many lessons in life. I can only say at this point, I will do my best to make him proud and keep what he started alive. I am not the only one but I am the only ‘me’!

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Colorado's source for Jeet Kune Do classes. Serving the Denver metropolitan area with two locations, including the Stapleton/Northfield area in North Denver and Southeast Denver. Jeet Kune Do is different from karate, tae kwon do, and kung fu.