I met TJ as he was growing his New Jersey based training program. Prior to this, I had practiced Aikido (Kokikai) for several years and Kung Fu (North Dragon - Lung Jop Pai) for a couple of years. I had also been a fan of Bruce Lee since the 1970's, and the opportunity to talk to somebody about Jeet Kune Do instantly caught my attention.
So many martial arts instructors are, to put it politely, hacks. The average store front "martial arts" studio seems to specialize in mediocre training geared primarily towards kids who will only be there a couple of years, and those who expect to be guaranteed a black belt in exchange for 3 years of lessons and a few thousand dollars;we refer to these as "McMartial Arts" studios. I had seen way too many of these, with "sensei's" claiming to be Grand Masters from distant exotic lands, so I have a tendency to view any self-proclaimed martial arts instructor with "open minded skepticism". While I've never been good enough to indulge in "dojo storming", I will politely wait to be impressed before assuming an instructor is good. TJ Miller blew that skepticism out of the water quickly -- and consistently. He's the real deal, in a very big way.
Working out with TJ, I finally learned what Jeet Kune Do is really all about. You can start to glean it from Bruce Lee's writings if you're patient and persistent. But to really "get it", you have to "do it" with someone who's already there.
My initial training with TJ was in small adult groups of 3 to 5 initially. His approach was excellent. We focused on basics to start, beginning simply with learning how to fall. As Alfred says to Bruce Wayne in Batman, "Why do we fall, sir? So we can learn to get up." We learned basic punches and kicks, as most people have no clue that a good punch is 80% body and 20% arm. We started stationary with heavy bags until we could actually fall, punch and kick effectively, though still very much beginners. Then we starting moving around, working with TJ and also pairing up with others, alternately holding practice mitts and pads for each other. Trying to throw a punch or kick at a moving target is a somewhat shocking revelation if you've never done it before, and a bit embarrassing when you first try.
Now that we were moving, TJ started to really emphasize this, the various ranges that Jeet Kune Do focuses on - weapons, kicking, punching, close-in (knees, elbows, head), grappling and the idea of controlling distance, and controlling the encounter. This evolved into developing an understanding of keeping a distance until you're ready to engage, and knowing when to close and escalate. We worked with a single "attacker", and then with two and three attacker, learning once again how to control our position relative to them so we could selectively encounter one at a time, and use them against each other.
As quickly as we digested his lessons, he started including more styles that are traditonally taught with JKD, such as Wing Chun, Kali/Escrima, Silat, Muai Thai, Savate, Dumog and Jujitsu. We spent quite a bit of time on trapping, and blending and transitioning from technique to technique, across styles. The emphasis was always on establishing our "tools" to the point where we could apply whatever was most effective in any given situation - much more important than rote forms. Of course, the ideal would be to practice enough so that the reaction and application of techniques would be instant, requiring no thought and conscious selection -- but that takes years to develop.
At one point, I was training twice a week with TJ in the dojo, and had the luxury and privilege of having him come to my home once a week for private training. During these sessions, we focused primarily on the heavy bag - my form, speed, endurance, combinations - with TJ emphasizing the need for repetition and consistent effort. When the weather permitted, we'd work out on my driveway or in the backyard with the Kali sticks -- one of my favorite parts of practice.
TJ's skills are, in a word, superb, both as a practitioner and a trainer. I've been incredibly impressed with his mastery of each of the styles from which he demonstrated and trained us in technique, and even more so in his ability to truly keep them as part of his "toolkit" from which to draw, instantly and seamlessly, as needed in a combat situation. I practiced with TJ for several years, as did my teenage son and daughter, and only stopped when he relocated out of state. I would start up again in a heartbeat if logistics permitted.
Beyond being a world class Jeet Kune Do trainer, in both group and private settings, TJ is a philosopher perhaps in the tradition of the best practitioners like Bruce Lee and Morihei Ueshiba, something you learn gradually over years of practice with him.
All in all, TJ is a unique and superb martial arts practitioner and trainer, and it's a rare privilege to learn from, practice with - and be able to call someone this special your friend.