The stories about him are mythical, he has influenced millions and still does to this very day. But what is the allure of this Chinese/American other than his incredible body, flawless moves and cult classic films? Well one must 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 do not need that, however let us discuss some essential points shall we? Bruce Lee begins teaching some students privately his take on battle and practical martial arts, often training people in parking garages and in parks before getting enough students to open up his own college. At the moment the developing martial arts scene (as this was the pioneer days of martial arts shooting off in this country with Asian immigrants and armed forces service members coming back from abroad with those never before seen techniques) begins hearing all this chatter about a Chinese guy who’s so unbelievably fast and gifted he must be experienced to be believed.
Well Bruce, begins getting invited to martial arts tournaments to do demonstrations and the public can not believe what they are seeing. Two-finger push-ups, 1 inch punches (where Bruce would set a small pad against a guy’s chest with his fist one inch off and blast the person 6 feet back into a seat ) and fighting concepts which 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 series is powerful but is canceled after a short run, so he goes off to China and becomes very successful in foreign kung-fu films. Not long after he becomes popular in the U.S. where he gets a movies deal for a U.S. production everybody knows about,”Enter the Dragon.” Six days before it’s released he dies.
OK so why is he so popular? Well for one thing it was unheard of at that time for a Chinese guy to get a top movie role at the U.S. do to powerful anti-Asian prejudices that were prevalent at the moment. The other reasons are that he was way ahead of his time with the training techniques he was experimenting with at the moment. He was among the first to use weight training (prior to him people believed you would become muscle bound and slow if you lift weights, regrettably some still believe that only happens in the event that you do not stretch after lifting heavy weights), he also used boxing equipment for full-contact sparring and soccer strike pads that we now call the atmosphere shield for training kicks on. He was experimenting with mad kinds of diets and vitamins and was using electro-shock to make himself quicker, not unlike we now see used in physical therapy for muscle stimulation for rehabilitative reasons, not quicker muscle contractions. Finally he shunned traditional martial arts creating his own combat art called Jeet Kune Do (Way of the intercepting fist) after almost losing a struggle fight in China Town when the elders were upset he had been teaching Caucasians Chinese martial arts, which was not allowed in their culture back then. It would take too much time to discuss what his art consisted of but in short these are the reasons why he was so popular.
OK, so here’s a rhetorical question: what degree black belt was Bruce Lee? He obviously was a master right? Nope, in fact he wasn’t even a black belt. Wait, what? No really, he attained intermediate position in Wing Chun (a Chinese traditional manner of Kung-Fu) and had some early experiences in some other traditional styles of Kung-Fu but that’s it. At one stage he got in a fight and hurt someone and the police were searching for him, so his uncle gave him some money he’d saved, put him on a boat and sent him back to the U.S. as he was born here and had U.S. citizenship. So together with his training being cut short, he studied and practiced on his own and eventually came up with Jeet Kune Do.