By Tim Tackett
I first met Bob Bremer near the beginning of 1971. I had just finished getting my Master Of Fine Arts degree and was teaching drama at a local high school. I saw Bruce Lee at Ed Parker’s tournament in 1967 and told myself that as soon as I finished school and got a job that I would try and study Jeet Kune Do. I was teaching kung fu at the time. I got Dan Inosanto’s phone number and called him up to ask if my first kung fu student and I could start taking lessons. He told me that we could and said that it was not big deal as it was a small group in his backyard gym and “Oh! By the way bring 16 ounce boxing gloves”.
The next Tuesday night my student, Bob Chapman, and I made the 90-mile trip to Sifu Inosanto’s house. We started the class with some basic JKD techniques. It was soon time to spar. I then squared off with a stocky guy about 15 years older than me. Once the sparring started my opponent entered with a low kick to my shin and just left it there. His shoulders were squared and he just grinned at me. I was unable to move either forward or back. I could not reach him with a punch. In truth, I was unable to do anything. That was my introduction to Bob Bremer and to his version of the leg obstruction. It was love at first sight.
I saw Bob every time I went to class, but I made sure to avoid sparring with him. In 1988 Bob retired from his job as a crane operator and was living in the high desert about 40 miles from my house where I was teaching a small garage JKD group. Since he no longer had to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and drive to L.A. to work, he started showing up every Wednesday night for class. At that time I had been sending some of my students to different styles of martial arts to see what they might have to offer us. I would then have them show the class what they learned. After a few weeks of just watching, Bob asked if he could share some things with us. He told us that Bruce Lee told him to always “Take what was offered you”. He explained that the name Jeet Kune Do meant “The way of the intercepting fist”. He showed that if you could keep a distance between you and your opponent, to hit or kick you he would have to step toward you. This would give you the time to stop the attack with either a punch or a kick. He explained that almost any hand attack could be countered with a simply side kick to the shin or knee of the attacker. While we already knew what Bob was saying, it was clear that we had been ignoring it.
He told us that the best way to see an attack coming was to look for the attacker’s preparation or telegraph. He told us that the best way to see an opponent’s preparation was to practice with a partner, so as one was getting better at getting rid of his preparation, the other got better and better at seeing it. He then started working with us on a drill that Bruce Lee showed him called the hammer principle.
In the drill the attacker stands back far enough so the he has to take a step forward to make contact with a palm strike to the defender’s forehead. If the defender were able to block the attack, he would then tell the attacker what he saw so he would get rid of it. Within a few months everyone got better and better at intercepting. Then a problem occurred when we starting sparring, as no one wanted to attack because as soon as they moved forward, they got a side kick to the shin.
Bob then taught us how to counter the stop kick by the attacker quickly moving forward with a leg obstruction. (All of the techniques described in here are in Bob’s and my book, Chinatown Jeet Kune Do). After the guys and gals in class were taught this, then no one wanted to attack, so we had to say “no stop kick or leg obstruction when free sparring”; but we did make sure to drill it in each class.
Bob then told us that Bruce Lee had told him that the best way to win the fight was to just reach over and knock the opponent out. He then said that he felt that we were not hitting hard enough to really stop anyone’s attack. He said that we were doing more of a boxer’s jab than a straight lead punch. Bob then went into great detail on how to punch correctly. He worked with us on getting the proper snap with the elbow to get the correct amount of penetration, so our punch ended with a powerful snap instead of a push.
When I was studying to be a teacher I was told that the purpose of education was to give each student a built in BS detector. This theory of education unfortunately seems to be no longer taught. Bob in essence became our BS detector. He would look at something one of the students was doing and say “Are you s****ing me”. He would then walk up and have them do it to him and then destroy it. Of course, it was not always negative. Bob also saw many things that he liked. He said that we had increased our usable knowledge. He loved some of the knees and elbows from other arts, some of the close combat material we were working on, as well as some of the grappling. He didn’t care where a technique came from. He only cared if it worked in the real world. By using basic JKD principles, Bob gave us the tools to analyze a technique for both its strength and weaknesses.
Bob really changed the way we do JKD, but he never saw himself as a teacher. When we would have to do a little teaching at a large gathering of JKD teachers and students, he didn’t want to do it. He might explain something for the students to work on then have one of us demonstrate it, but once the practice started we would see him on the floor working with 2 or 3 people. That’s how Bob preferred it. He was happiest working with a small group. His one main regret was that not enough people spent enough time working on what he taught to see how valuable it really was.
Eventually, Bob became too sick to make it to class on Wednesdays. He is no longer with us, but our hope is that he is now looking down on us and seeing that we are putting the time in. Our group will always be grateful that we knew you and got the chance to work with you.