OBITUARY: Taky Kimura, 96, Student and Friend of Bruce Lee

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Taky Kimura (1924-2021)

Takauki “Taky” Kimura, one of Bruce Lee’s top students and closest friends, died on Jan. 7 at the age of 96.

Kimura’s son, Taky Andrew Kimura, posted on Facebook, “He passed away at home surrounded by family. Please allow our family a few days to grieve and we will release a statement. Thank you all for your love and support.”

Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, posted, “First and foremost, Taky was a beautiful human being, a gentle soul with a kind heart. Taky was also my father’s best friend — best man at his wedding, first assistant instructor at his first school in Seattle, and loyal friend and supporter of our family.

“Taky never charged his students to learn Jun Fan Gung Fu and JKD (Jeet Kune Do). He ran a grocery store in Seattle and taught JKD in the basement. He and his students tended my father’s (and then my brother’s) grave(s) in Seattle every year.

“Everything Taky did, he did honorably and from his heart. He was a true mentor in word and deed. He lived a long life; he raised his son, Andy, to whom he was devoted; and he was an ambassador to any and all from around the world who wanted to learn about Bruce and his martial arts.

“I’m sure he and my father are embracing and laughing together right now. Rest in peace, Taky. You are loved.”

Kudos Memorabilia released a statement that was authorized by the Kimura family. It reads, in part:

“We were exceptionally sad to learn of the passing of Sigung Taky Kimura yesterday at the age of 96 and would like to express our heartfelt condolences to his son, Andy, daughter-in-law, Monica, grandsons, Brodie and Adam, and his ‘second sons’ Tsuyoshi Abe and Alain De Preter, as well as to his family, extended family and to his many devoted students and friends worldwide …

“Sigung Taky was an exemplary teacher and a consummate ambassador for the martial arts. He was Bruce Lee’s first senior student and co-instructor at the original, and now legendary, Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute of Seattle. At the time of his passing, he held a 7th rank in Jun Fan Gung Fu. …

“Sifu Taky was proud to be Bruce’s best friend and was honored to be the best man at his wedding to Linda on Aug. 17, 1963. Following Bruce’s premature death on July 20, 1973, Sifu Taky continued to express his faithfulness, respect and devotion for his esteemed friend and teacher. He was one of six pallbearers at Bruce’s West Coast funeral, alongside Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Dan Inosanto, Robert Lee and Ray Chin.

“He extended consistent love and support to Linda and her children, Brandon and Shannon, in the wake of Bruce’s passing and enjoyed a treasured friendship with the Lee family for the remainder of his life. Sifu Taky also dedicated himself to the devoted maintenance and care of Bruce’s grave at Seattle’s Lakeview Cemetery for decades and continued to faithfully teach Bruce’s foundational art of Jun Fan Gung Fu — in the first instance to a hand-picked cadre of private students and then, subsequently, through the revived and celebrated Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Seattle, alongside his son and chief instructor, Sifu Andrew Kimura …

Taky Kimura and Bruce Lee first met in 1959 and were friends until Lee’s death in 1973.

“In his own words, Sigung Taky expressed his unqualified admiration for Bruce Lee: ‘Bruce is the reason why I am able to lift my head up with pride, and he is also the reason why I have strived to improve my life every day. I instill those positive philosophies into my son, Andrew, and into my grandsons as well. The best legacy I can leave the world is a perpetuation of the legacy of my best friend, Bruce Lee.’ …

“Sigung Taky was a true gentleman who exemplified what it meant to be a loving father, a loyal friend and an inspirational teacher. He lived life with dignity, humility, compassion and good humor. Despite experiencing racism on a personal and institutional level in his formative years — including a five-year forced-labor internment in the aftermath of ‘The Day of Infamy’ — Taky developed, with Bruce Lee’s invaluable help, a bright and hopeful demeanor, which captivated all who knew him. He was a man who valued character over status and always looked for the good in other people. Almost invariably, he had little difficulty finding it …

“Sigung Taky was never too busy to share his precious memories of his cherished and transformative friendship with Bruce Lee and adored taking fans on private tours of Seattle, during which he enchanted them with his joyful delivery of fascinating anecdotes and heartfelt commentary. If you were a Bruce Lee fan, he was undoubtedly the best tour guide in town! …

“Sigung Taky once told his dear friend David Tadman, during the production of their book ‘Regards from the Dragon-Seattle,’ that his father, Surejiro — a man who had endured incredible hardship for the benefit of his family — was ‘his hero and his strength.’ Sigung Taky championed his father’s example and learned from the lessons of the past; thus ensuring this legacy of heroic fortitude was passed on to his son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, friends and students — many of whom can likewise say, ‘Taky, you have been my hero and my strength.’

“In remembrance of his long-standing friendship with Sifu Taky, David pays this fervent tribute: ‘Taky was about love, honor, family, friendship, guidance, mentorship, humanity, kindness and courage. He will always be remembered by the force of those words, whether spoken loudly or softly. I loved him greatly.’

“From a personal point of view, the Kudos team is exceptionally grateful to Sigung Taky and the Kimura family. We have worked together on a number of projects over the years, and they have always made us feel like part of the family. It was a great honor for us to collaborate on a special-edition poster-magazine to celebrate Sigung Taky’s 95th anniversary. Our memories of that uplifting partnership are an enduring pleasure for everyone involved.

“We can also recall, with great affection, a number of wonderful conversations we enjoyed with Sifu Taky over the years. He was always exceptionally good-humored, caring, considerate and helpful. We will certainly miss his warmth, friendship, vibrant anecdotes and wise counsel …”

Born on March 12, 1924. Kimura was incarcerated with his family and other Japanese Americans on the West Coast one day before his high school graduation, first at Tule Lake in Northern California, then at Minidoka in Idaho. When they were released, the family had no money and moved to Seattle, where they began operating a market. Unable to graduate with his class and with no opportunity to attend college, Kimura found himself depressed and unmotivated.

In 1959, when Kimura was in his mid-thirties, he met Lee, who was already making a name for himself as a martial artist at the age of 18. Kimura joined Lee’s early kung-fu club where Lee was teaching his version of Wing Chun called Jun Fan Gung Fu (Jun Fan was Lee’s given name in Chinese). Kimura became Lee’s student, assistant, and at that time, his closest friend. Together, they trained, sparred and practiced and then founded Lee’s Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in the basement of the Kimura family supermarket,

This is where Kimura became Lee’s first assistant iustructor. It was because of his friendship with Lee and his dedicated study of Jun Fan Gung Fu and martial arts philosophy in general that Kimura was able to turn his life around.

Kimura held a 5th rank in Jun Fan Gung Fu. After his certification, he was allowed to teach small classes under the mantra “Keep the numbers low, but the quality high.” He continued to teach in the basement of his supermarket for free, and the only individual that he certified as an instructor was his son.

In Lee’s final film, “Game of Death,” Kimura appeared as an actor. He was asked by Lee to play the role of the Guardian of the Second Floor, a master of the praying mantis kung fu style. However, the footage shot of Kimura was never used in the final versions of the film, which were re-edited after Lee’s death.

Kimura appeared in a many documentaries, including Mellissa Tong’s “Taky Kimura: The Dragon’s Legacy” (2000), also produced by Quentin Lee; “How Bruce Lee Changed the World” (2009); “Bruce Lee in G.O.D.: Shibôteki Yûgi” (2000); “Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey” (1999); “The Path of the Dragon” (1998); “The Life of Bruce Lee” (1994); “The Curse of the Dragon” (1993); “Bruce Lee, the Legend” (1977); and “Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend” (1973).

In addition, Kimura appeared in numerous television shows, including a 1994 episode of “Biography” entitled “Bruce Lee: The Immortal Dragon” and a 1999 episode of “Famous Families” entitled “The Lees: Action Speaks Louder.”

In 2009, when Kimura was 85, and nearly 67 years after his original graduation date, he finally received his diploma from Clallam Bay High School in Clallam Bay, Wash. He graduated with the second-highest ranking of salutatorian. (Biographical details from USAdojo.com)

Matt Emery of Emery Academy of Martial Arts in Los Angeles has started a GoFundMe page for Kimura’s family (https://www.gofundme.com/f/sifu-taky-kimura-a-celebration-of-life). The description reads, in part:

“For six decades, Sifu Taky, with reverence and loyalty, passed on the art of Jun Fan Gung Fu/Jeet Kune Do to his students. Through love, thoughtfulness and compassion, Sifu Taky devoted his life to honoring the art and philosophy of his best friend, Bruce Lee. We are eternally grateful for the guidance, wisdom and inspiration of Sifu Taky.

“Sifu Taky had a profound impact on everyone who came into contact with him. In doing so, he not only enriched the lives of those he encountered, he changed their lives for the better. Sifu Taky’s legacy of kindness, respect and integrity will live on forever.

“On behalf of Sifu Taky’s students, we thank you all for reaching out with condolences and respect for Sifu Taky. Your kindness and generosity is greatly appreciated. Contributions raised on this platform will go to the Kimura family as they plan for Sifu Taky’s funeral expenses and tribute. A Celebration of Life for Sifu Taky will take place in Seattle, Wash., in the future.

“The Kimura family would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of love and compassion during this time.”

As of Saturday, the page has raised more than $9,000 toward the goal of $20,000.

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