The Philosophy of Bruce Lee Is Alive and Well in New York City

Fightland Blog

By Angela Datre and Andy Jimenez

Photo by Angela Datre

Located on Broadway, a few blocks from the N train in Astoria, NY, is one of Dino Orfano's newest institutions. Training gear and Bruce Lee literature line the walls in the lobby of the Queens location, one of five New York Martial Arts Academiesthat Orfanos owns and directs. 

Orfanos has dedicated the past forty years of his life to spreading and nurturing martial arts and the teachings of Bruce Lee. His connections to Lee come from his instruction with Ted Wong, who trained privately with Bruce, and Chris Kent, student and assistant to Dan Inosanto, a student of Bruce Lee. Orfanos is the only person certified as an instructor of Jeet Kune Do under both the Ted Wong and Dan Inosanto lines and his experience is lengthy—he trained for fifteen years in traditional martial arts, is a fifth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a first degree blackbelt in Chinese Kenpō and a brown belt in Shotokan, and is a full instructor in Jeet Kune Do, Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do, Brazilian jiu jitsu (under Grandmaster Reylson Gracie), Kali, Pencak Silat, and Jun Fan Gung Fu.

Photo by Andy Jimenez

Orfanos' hope is that his students take Bruce's notes and disciplines and apply them to their own lives. He emphasizes the diversity in the individual—what is right for one person may not be right for another. Through knowledge of kinetics and physics, you find your own unique style and personal expression.

Philosophy and spirituality are main concentrations in Bruce Lee's teachings and at Orfanos' academies. Students are taught the connection between body and mind and how to positively affect the communities around them. Through charity participation and clothing drives for organizations like Save a Young Life FoundationMaria's Love FoundationSt. Jude Children's Hospital and the Wounded Warrior Project, the NYMAA is bettering the community and setting examples about the impact support and outreach can have. 

Photo by Angela Datre

Fightland:Your academy teaches a philosophy class in addition to its grappling, striking, and weapon-training classes.
Dino Orfanos: A lot of times people go and teach martial arts and it's always about kicking and punching. This guy beats this guy up and they're really happy. We look at that as prize fighting. Same way you would look in the old days at the boxing gym. You go into a boxing gym and everything is about winning the fight. But I'd hate to think that I spent forty years of my life just kicking and punching. So there has to be a spiritual aspect. There is the art, science and philosophy that we're trying to teach. If you look at our emblem, the spirit is over the art. The idea behind a martial artist is not to fight; it is the ability to diffuse any situation. Sometimes you can’t, but that's your main goal. When you train in martial arts, it is about becoming a better person.

Photo by Angela Datre

You claim that your academy is about training that emphasizes survival and not competition.
There are two places you can be—on the ground and standing. Everybody that's ever been thrown to the mat says, "Oh my god. That really hurts"... People want to take people to the ground and stuff like that. Outside in the streets, you have a problem. You fall on the ground, you're going to have a different kind of situation... A lot of times people take the blade out after the clinch happens. See, people think the knife comes out and I'm showing it to you. A good knife fighter, when you clinch him, he's going to pull the knife out and he's going to stab you because that's the hardest place for you to defend yourself... One of Bruce's principles was "longest tool closest to the target". So we never kick high. Everything is below the waist. If I'm going to punch somebody on the side of their face, why would I try to kick them there for? That disturbs my balance. 

Photo by Angela Datre

What makes your academy different from other martial arts institutions?
When you teach the art, you have to teach something that you love... I teach martial arts because I want to... At thirteen years old when I stepped on the floor, I said, "I'm going to do this for the rest of my life." Passion has to come through. I love taking a person that's brand new and teaching them stance and footwork and showing them the art in a cool way but also seeing them grow. We don't have any part-time instructors, everybody here works full-time. It's their passion. They want to teach. They want to express the art. When you teach with your heart, people stick around and they get better.

Photo by Andy Jimenez

What are the biggest misconceptions about martial arts?
People think a guy goes into martial arts because it is all about fighting… Is it just about punching and kicking? It isn’t. It’s about taking a thirteen year old kid, like myself, and putting him in a place where he can’t get in trouble. It’s going to teach him discipline, it is going to teach him to sit down and do his school work. It’s going to stay with him the rest of his life. There are very few things that can actually stay with you for the rest of your life… As you get older your art has to adjust… Just like life, as I get older I have to adjust.

Photo by Andy Jimenez

What has been your proudest achievement with the academy?
Spreading the art. You see all these different people from different backgrounds and they are all training together and they are learning how to express themselves. We’ll teach them the kinetics of punching and kicking and how they put it together is up to them. Your kinetics and physics have to be the same and if you are going to teach Jeet Kune Do, you have to teach certain techniques and that’s what we are doing. We are also one of the only schools, I think in the city, to offer a philosophy class and we do philosophy in every class. We try to spread the art the right way, the way I was taught by my instructors.

Photo by Andy Jimenez

What do you see for the future of your academies?
A lot of the time when people grow, they water down their art. We could open up another five or six schools but the quality of instruction won’t be there, that does a disservice to the person who comes to train. There are two types of growth—one where we open up more schools or the one that is going on in here where the students are getting better, and that is more rewarding believe it or not. We want to make sure that we have high quality instruction, the growth is here, it’s happening.

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
Sometimes people say to me “Are you going to retire?” When I started teaching full time, I retired. I do what I love! Hopefully I'm still around doing it, god-willing. I don't really see myself stopping. I don't think I could because it's been with me for so long. This is an important ingredient in who I am, martial arts teaches us about our weaknesses as human beings and shows us a lot about ourselves. I'll be still finding out about my weaknesses, my strong-points, getting better. That’s what it’s all about.



Check out these related stories:

Love and Rebellion: How Two Karatekas Fought Apartheid

Fighting Motives: A Study in Saifa – Part 1

The Karate Master: A Beginner’s Guide to Elvis Presley’s Martial Arts Obsession