When Bruce Lee Came to Black Belt Magazine

M. Uyehara is the founder and owner of Black Belt magazine, having created the martial arts industry’s leading publication in 1961. During the early years, Uyehara served as a hands-on owner and publisher, and made every effort to bring the world’s greatest martial artist to his readers. In the following account. he describes how he became acquainted with a then up-and-coming martial artist and actor named Bruce Lee.
Black Belt EditorĀ 1961

Black Belt magazine’s first interview with Bruce was when he was working on The Green Hornet television series in Los Angeles. Bruce and I had a long conversation that day. He and I clicked and got along from the very first time we met.

A few weeks later, Bruce was scheduled to do a demonstration at Ed Parker’s Long Beach (California) International Karate Championship. I went to the tournament, and Bruce went out on the floor when it came time for his demonstration. I think there were over 4,000 people in attendance. There were a lot of kids there, because they had announced that Kato from The Green Hornet would be there. He was signing autographs; he was very good with kids.

Bruce Lee Black Belt Magazine 1967So he went up and put on some demonstrations. He asked for volunteers to help with his demonstrations, but nobody would go up. Finally a guy volunteered. Someone told me he was a former boxer. Bruce told this guy to throw a punch at his face. Bruce stood about six or seven feet away, and this guy missed every time. Bruce would yell “Oops’ you missed again.” He was the comical type.

After we became friends, he would call me just about every day, unless he was filming on location. When he called, he would usually talk about acting, martial arts, weight-lifting, vitamins and exercises. Once in a while he would come to the office at Black Belt and say hello to everybody.

I used to train with him, so I would go to his house and we would practice different techniques. Ted Wong, Danny Jackson, myself and Bruce there were always four of us training.

Sometimes Bruce would hold a padded shield and tell us to hit it, and we tried to move it. After a while, we started to get pretty good at it and we were reaching him. So one day he stopped by Black Belt, came into my office and told me to take my shoes off. He said he wanted to try something new. So I took my shoes off, and he said “Attack me.”

I kicked toward his stomach, and then pulled my leg back. He said “You’re pretty good. You’re pretty fast.”

Then he told me to move further away from him and try it again. He said “That’s not bad.” He kept telling me how good I was.

Then, the third time I tried to kick him, he whacked me in the stomach. He caught me before I could move. I looked at him and said “Try that again,” because I couldn’t believe it.

So he tried again, and he caught me again in the stomach before I could kick. He was just trying to figure out if the techniques he was developing would work on me. The employees at Black Belt were always wondering what all the noise was when Bruce was visiting the office.

He got along really great with kids and had a lot of fun with them. Sometimes, when kids would come around the Black Belt office, they didn’t know who Bruce was. Bruce would say to the kid “Do you want this dime?” And the kid would say “I don’t mind having a dime.” So Bruce would put the dime in the palm of the kid’s hand, and he told the kid that if he couldn’t grab the dime before the youngster closed his hand, the kid could keep it. Then Bruce would move his hand toward the kid’s palm, and the kid would close his hand, get excited and say “l got it!”

Then Bruce would tell him to open his hand. And the kid would find a penny. Bruce could swap the dime for a penny that quick. That was his favorite trick with the kids. I never saw a kid beat him at that.

By the time I met Bruce, Black Belt had been in existence for several years.

He came to us because he thought we had the best magazine in the industry. He told me of a time when he was going to travel to Switzerland to teach a private lesson to filmmaker Roman Polanski. Nobody really knew of Bruce back then. When he was getting his passport, he told them that he was Bruce Lee. The guy said “Oh yeah, weren’t you in Black Belt magazine?” They knew Black Belt more than they knew Bruce Lee. After that experience, he was so loyal to me.

He used to tell me that “If it weren’t for Black Belt, no one would think I was authentic. They would think I was just an actor. They would think I just had stunt people to do the things I do on the screen. But you guys made me a genuine martial artist.” He really appreciated Black Belt’s coverage of him.

When people would tell Bruce about article ideas that they wanted to submit to a martial arts magazine, he would tell them “Why don’t you just call Black Belt and tell them Bruce sent you over? Don’t go to all those other junk magazines.” He always thought Black Belt was the best

Original Article: When Bruce Lee Came to Black BeltM. Uyehara

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