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Bruce Lee: What’s all the fuss?

Bruce Lee, aka “The Little Dragon”, who in the developed world is not familiar with him? Stories about him are legendary, he has influenced millions and still does to this day. But what is the appeal of this Chinese/American besides his incredible physique, his impeccable moves, and his cult classic movies? Well, one has to go back to the early 1960s, when Bruce first gained notoriety. I could sit here all day talking in detail about how he came to be, but neither you nor I want that, but let’s discuss a few key points though, shall we? Bruce Lee begins privately teaching some students his vision of combat and practical martial arts, often training people in parking lots and parks until he gets enough students to open his own school. At this time, the developing martial arts scene (since these were the pioneering days of martial arts taking off in this country with Asian immigrants and returning service members of the military beginning abroad with these never-before-seen techniques) upon hearing all this talk about a Chinese man who is so unbelievably fast and talented that it has to be experienced to be believed.

Well, Bruce, begins to be invited to martial arts tournaments to make demonstrations and the public can not believe what they are seeing. Two-finger pushups, 1-inch punches (where Bruce would place a small pad against a man’s chest with his fist an inch away and throw the person 6 feet back into a chair), and wrestling concepts that weren’t they knew at the time. Well, lo and behold, one day there was a TV producer in the audience who, after seeing this exciting display, gave Bruce the role of Kato in the Green Hornet TV series. The show is successful, but it is canceled after a short period of time, so he goes to China and is very successful in foreign kung-fu movies. Not long after, he becomes popular in the US, where he lands a film contract for a familiar US production, “Enter the Dragon”. Six days before its release, he dies.

Ok, so why is it so popular? Well, for one thing, it was unheard of at the time for a Chinese man to get a lead role in a movie in the US due to the 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 the time. He was one of the first to use weight training (before him people thought muscles would get sluggish and stiff if you lifted weights, sadly some still think this, that only happens if you don’t stretch after lifting heavy weights ), he also used boxing gear for full contact sparring and soccer punching pads we now call an air shield for training kicks. He was experimenting with crazy types of diets and vitamins and using electroshock to make himself faster, not unlike what we now see used in physiotherapy for muscle stimulation for rehabilitative reasons, not for faster muscle contractions. Lastly, he eschewed traditional martial arts and created his own fighting art called Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist) after nearly losing a challenge fight in China Town when the elders were upset that he was teaching Chinese martial arts to the Chinese. Caucasians, which was not allowed in their culture at the time. It would take too long to discuss what his art consisted of, but in summary, these are the reasons why he was so popular.

OK, so here’s a rhetorical question: what degree of black belt was Bruce Lee? He obviously he was a teacher, right? No, in fact he wasn’t even a black belt. Hope for? That’s crazy, who would say such a thing? No, really, he reached an intermediate range in Wing Chun (a traditional Chinese Kung-Fu style) and had some early experiences in other traditional Kung-Fu styles, but that’s about it. At one point he got into a fight and hurt someone and the police were looking for him so his uncle gave him some money he had saved and put him on a boat and sent him back to the US because he was born here and had US citizenship. So, with his training interrupted, he studied and practiced on his own and finally came up with Jeet Kune Do.

That’s a quick synopsis of a very long and detailed story. Bruce Lee’s influence is still felt today in many areas. It is said that mixed martial arts owe his gratitude to him and he is often called the “father of mixed martial arts”. It can be argued that all of these breaks from traditional martial arts that we see today began with his radical concepts, training techniques, and influences from his writing.

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