Bruce Lee, aka “The Little Dragon,” who in the developed world is not familiar with him? The stories about him are legendary, he has influenced millions and still does to this very day. But what is the allure of this Chinese/American other than his incredible physique, flawless moves and cult classic films? Well one has to go way back to the early 1960’s when Bruce first gained notoriety. I could sit here all day going into detail about how he came to be, but both you and I don’t want that, however let’s discuss some key points shall we? Bruce Lee starts teaching some students privately his take on combat and practical martial arts, often training people in parking garages and in parks until getting enough students to open up his own school. At this time the developing martial arts scene (as this was the pioneer days of martial arts taking off in this country with Asian immigrants and armed forces service members coming back from overseas with these never before seen techniques) starts hearing all this chatter about a Chinese man who is so unbelievably fast and talented that he must be experienced to be believed.
Well Bruce, starts getting invited to martial arts tournaments to do demonstrations and the public can’t believe what they are seeing. Two-finger push-ups, 1 inch punches (where Bruce would put a small pad against a man’s chest with his fist one inch away and blast the person 6 feet back into a chair) and fighting concepts that were unheard of at that time. Well low and behold there was a television producer in the audience one day who, after seeing this thrilling display, gave Bruce the role of Kato in the Green Hornet TV series. The show is successful but is canceled after a short run, so he goes off to China and becomes very successful in foreign kung-fu films. Not long later he becomes popular in the U.S. where he gets a movies deal for a U.S. production everyone knows about, “Enter the Dragon.” Six days before it is released he dies.
OK so why is he so popular? Well for one thing it was unheard of at that time for a Chinese man to get a leading movie role in the U.S. do to strong anti-Asian prejudices that were prevalent at the time. The other reasons are that he was way ahead of his time with the training techniques he was experimenting with at that time. He was one of the first to utilize weight training (prior to him people thought you would become muscle bound and slow if you lift weights, sadly some still think this, that only happens if you don’t stretch after lifting heavy weights), he also utilized boxing gear for full-contact sparring and football strike pads that we now call the air shield for training kicks on. He was experimenting with crazy types of diets and vitamins and was using electro-shock to make himself faster, not unlike we now see used in physical therapy for muscle stimulation for rehabilitative reasons, not quicker muscle contractions. Lastly he shunned traditional martial arts creating his own combat art called Jeet Kune Do (Way of the intercepting fist) after almost losing a challenge fight in China Town when the elders were upset he was teaching Caucasians Chinese martial arts, which was not allowed in their culture back then. It would take too long to discuss what his art consisted of but in short these are the reasons why he was so popular.
OK, so here is a rhetorical question: what degree black belt was Bruce Lee? He obviously was a master right? Nope, in fact he was not even a black belt. Wait, what? That’s crazy who would say such a thing? No really, he achieved intermediate rank in Wing Chun (a Chinese traditional style of Kung-Fu) and had some early experiences in some other traditional styles of Kung-Fu but that’s it. At one point he got in a fight and hurt someone and the police were looking for him, so his uncle gave him some money he had saved, put him on a boat and shipped him back to the U.S. as he was born here and had U.S. citizenship. So with his training being cut short, he studied and practiced on his own and eventually came up with Jeet Kune Do.
That is a quick synopses of a very long, detailed story. Bruce Lee’s influence is still being felt today in so many areas. Mixed martial arts, it is said owe their gratitude to him and he is often called the “father of mixed martial arts.” All these breaks with traditional martial arts we see today, it can be argued, all started with his radical concepts, training techniques and influences from his writings.
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