Last month we showcased the greatness of the Rock, and how he persevered and overcame many obstacles to become the man he is today. The Rock is a man of many talents, however hard work is needed to refine those talents and June’s Black Sheep of the month, Bruce Lee, is no stranger to hard work.
The story of Bruce Lee is one of grit, inspiration, tenacity, perseverance, failure, success and heart break. For the millions of followers around the world, Bruce Lee is nothing short of a true legend.
Bruce changed the martial arts landscape and the way people trained, while also bridging the gap between east and west relations.
When it wasn’t popular, Bruce still taught Americans of all colors infuriating his fellow China men. Although many consider Bruce to be the most influential martial artist of all time, he was much more than that. Bruce was also a father and a husband. He fathered two kids a son and a daughter with his wife Linda Lee. Tragically his life was cut short on July 20, 1973 when he had an allergic reaction to medication while dealing with a migraine. He laid down and would never wake up.
Bruce was born in San Francisco California on November 27,1940. At a very young age, Bruce was accustomed to the lights and camera. At the age of 9, Bruce had already starred in his first lead role and by his late teenage years, he had appeared in 20 films. He was also known for something else, trouble.
Bruce as a kid was a troublemaker and would get into conflicts with many of his peers in Hong Kong. After several run ins on the streets, his parents introduced him to Martial Arts. By the age of 16, he was introduced to the martial art known as “Wing Chun” taught by the famous Ip Man.
It was during these training sessions where Bruce realized his potential and would indulge deeply into his studies.
Unfortunately for Bruce, martial arts didn’t keep him out of trouble, instead he got into another fist fight and more importantly, had a run in with the law. After careful consideration, Bruce’s parents decided to send a young Bruce to the United States with his older sister. He worked at a restaurant owned by Ruby Chow and even taught judo classes there after working hours.
After graduating with his high school diploma in 1959 from Edison Technical School, Bruce would enroll in the University of Washington as a Philosophy major in 1961 where he also taught Wing Chun.
He also opened his first martial arts school known as the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute.
After dropping out of college in 1964, Bruce moved to Oakland to pursue a second branch of the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute. It was at these schools where Bruce would train anyone who was interested regardless of race and skin color. This did not sit well for the local Chinamen who held on to their traditions. Although there are different accounts to this event, rumor has it a fight was setup over Bruce training Americans, specifically caucasians. If he were to lose, he would not be able to teach caucasians. If he won, he was free to do so.
According to Linda Lee, Wong Jack Man, the person chosen to face Bruce in a fight was eventually knocked down onto the canvas. Wong Jack Man on the other hand claims it was a draw. Regardless, Bruce went on to teach people of all colors and backgrounds without any backlash. It was during these times where Jeet Kune Do began to take shape.
Jeet Kune Do – 1967 – Paradigm Shift
in 1967, Bruce put a name to his experiences and called it “Jeet Kune Do – The Way of the Intercepting Fist.” Bruce characterized it as a way of expressing the human body.
Bruce respected all martial arts and loved to collaborate with many others such as Jhoon Goo Rhee, a master of the art of Tae Kwon Do. He studied various martial arts and also fell in love with boxing where he would mimic the movement of Muhammad Ali, one of Bruce’s favorite fighters. Bruce felt that boxing was pure science.
In the final scene of Return of the Dragon against Chuck Norris, audiences witnessed Bruce adapt his fighting style and implement feints and jabs with not only his fist, but his feet.
The entire fight scene with Chuck Norris is a great visualization of the adaptation of martial arts through the Lens of Bruce and how tradition can teach you the fundamentals, but adapting your fight game based on who you are fighting is the true challenge that Jeet Kune Do is designed for.
I highly recommend watching the entire film as there are many lessons to be learned.
You can see his fight stance change from a traditional stance to a livelier boxing stance. He then follows with an array of feints and jabs that eventually throws Chuck off of his defense. Combining his fist and feet as if he was a professional boxer, the equivalent of getting into the head of an opponent, Chuck had no idea where the next hit was going to come from. This display of adaptation through film is artwork and what set Bruce Lee apart from most martial arts films at the time.
Bruce realized that tradition is important, but you cannot be a slave to it. Every human has two arms and two legs, unless a person had more limbs, how can there really be a style? Jeet Kune Do, or “The way of the intercepting fist” was a response to his experiences and a paradigm shift towards becoming something greater than traditional martial arts.
“Be formless, shapeless, like water.”
When you have no form you are every form, when you have no style, you are every style. Bruce was able to realize that adaptability was the way to becoming great and in today’s MMA game, it is a key ingredient for success.
In today’s MMA game, there is no one style that dominates the other. There have been many types of champions, from Anderson Silva who practice Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu, and Taekwondo, to Brock Lesnar who used his enormous size to dominate his weight class. We have all witnessed Rhonda Rousey use her judo skills to sweep her victims to the ground followed by a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu arm bar to end her opponent’s night.
In every MMA fight all fighters must be able to fight standing up or on the ground. Every champion has been different. This is evident in Bruce’s last movie: Enter the Dragon. In the opening scene, Bruce is wearing what looks to be “MMA Gloves” where his Jeet Kune Do is displayed to full effect. Within this fight scene with the great Sammo Hung, Bruce provides a quick lesson or in western terms “ass whoopin” with a combination of kicks, punches, combinations, and grappling, then ends the fight with a modified arm bar forcing Sammo Hung to “tap out.”
Sound and look familiar?
Although there were several exhibitions matches of this type, the UFC would popularize MMA with its first event taking place in the 1990s. This specific scene has been referenced and has given the title to Bruce as “The godfather of MMA.”
Bruce was more than dedicated to becoming great, he was obsessed. In order to generate the kind of power from his small 5’7, 135-pound frame, Bruce perfected his technique through rigorous hours of training 7 days per week. Bruce was a master of the fundamentals, practicing the same kick or punch thousands of times.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” – Bruce Lee
He respected the old way of training, but his focus was “how can I become better.”
Bruce experimented with all types of ways to become faster and stronger. He had a vision and a knack and was ahead of his time, paving the way for martial artist and providing a blueprint for MMA fighters today.
Martial Arts Training “Art of expressing the human body” – Bruce Lee
Although he began his training with the traditional martial arts such as mastering the Art of Wing Chun and spending countless hours beating up on a wooden dummy, his training would evolve by implementing the best from an array of martial arts and boxing.
But his training went much further than martial arts. He understood that to reach his maximum potential, he would have to apply more than just kicks and punches. Bruce realized in order to reach the next level, he would have to implement speed and agility training, endurance training, stretching, weightlifting, and nutrition.
Bruce Lee was small, but his physique rivaled some of the greatest bodybuilders at the time. Standing at 5’7 around 135 pounds, Bruce realized weightlifting and bodybuilding would help his body reach new heights. He also knew this would help him compete in Hollywood and film.
His attention to detail, training regimen, and willingness to try new exercises has inspired many generations. Thanks to Hak Keung Gymnasium, Bruce filled out a gym card that provides us a glimpse into his weightlifting regimen. As evident in the image above, Bruce would work the entire body. Squats to strengthen his legs, Pushups for chest and different types of curls and presses to strengthen the biceps, triceps and forearms that would also translate into more punching power and speed.
Bruce would not lift heavy weights, instead he opted for low weight high rep regimen that helped him stay lean but also increase his strength and build tremendous power in his punching and kicking techniques. His famous one-inch punch is a testament of his hard work and attention to detail.
As depicted in the 1993 movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Bruce even applied an electrical current to his muscles to stimulate muscle recovery and growth while outside of the gym in the comfort of his own home, another example of experiments Bruce partaked to improve his strength and recovery.
Core Training and Stretching
Stretching is fundamental to all sports and most activities. In order for Bruce to be as fluid as he was and to also generate power from kicks that aimed above the belt, Bruce implemented stretching daily.
Bruce realized the core, which is the center of the body to be the most important. He felt the core was the foundation of the body and implemented core strengthening regimen 7 days a week. Here are some of the core exercises Bruce would implement:
- Waste Twist
- Sit up Twist
- Leg Raises
- Leaning Twist
- Frog Twist
For a more detailed report on core training click here
Nutrition and Diet
Bruce understood the importance of nutrition and diet. Although he didn’t have a specific nutrition plan, he understood the importance of consuming foods high in protein, carbs, veggies and didn’t stray far from his Eastern roots. Bruce was known to focus his diet on Chinese and Japanese foods that had a mix of all said ingredients.
Bruce also consumed protein shakes.
It is said that the protein shakes he consumed contained some of the following: eggs, vegetable oil, peanut butter and protein powder. He even made a shake out of hamburger meat at one point. He also experimented with juicing using vegetables and fruits.
Because of his small size and workout regimen that consisted of working out 7 days a week, Bruce was able to get away without tracking his macros and it has been documented that he would even help himself to seconds.
In 1969 Bruce broke his back and be bound to bed for over a year after performing a good morning exercise injuring his sacral nerve. This forced him to train the most important muscle, his mind. According to John Little (examined Bruce’s readings) Bruce had around 1700 books that were heavily annotated and his library reached over 2500 books.
Bruce focused on writing and deepening the mind and the Jeet Kune Do system. The Tao of Jeet Kune Do was written during this time. Dan Inosanto weighs in on the injury below and how it helped him reach another level of spirituality:
See link to hear the great Dan Inosanto thoughts on Bruces injury.
The doctors told him he would never walk again, but of course, Bruce decided to create his own rehab program. As a result of his grit and perseverance, Bruce not only walked again, he would star in four and a half movies for his final years that followed.
Bruce was more than just a martial artist and actor. To many, he was a mentor and scholar of the human condition. Like many Black Sheep, he sought answers to questions that are well beyond a normal persons comprehension. Bruce formally studied at the University of Washington studying Philosophy. Although Bruce did not complete his studies, he would carry what he learned and apply it to his personal life and martial arts to a very high extent.
Through his studies and constant evolution as a fighter he came upon the greatest mentors throughout history. From his research, he found the teachings of Jiddu Krishna. His belief, which was later adopted into Jeet Kung Do, was that all systems and beliefs in place hide the truth due to our inability to grasp what is beyond us.
Fun fact, some say this is a very similar concept incorporated into the Star Wars franchise, the concept of the living force.
Unknown to many, he’d play audio recordings of his favorite philosophers to his martial arts students to help not only himself but his fellow man grow. But this was not all, Bruce studied also other thinkers, such as Plato, Socrates, Seneca, and Descartes. Like the very meticulous individual he is, Bruce applied most of their teachings throughout his life and practice. Even today, visible fragments or evidence of the highly reflective philosophy is present behind Lee’s fighting system. Jeet kune do is an eclectic style of no style, supported not only by philosophical thought but also by a thorough study of body movements.
His quotes, often inspired by Taoism, Buddhism, some of Sun Tzu’s work, Jiddu Krishnamurti, many Greek philosophers and Alan Watts would begin to blend and evolve into life teachings many follow today. At the forefront, Alan Watts who came up with the idea of blending the East and the West together inspired Bruce by doing the same with martial arts.
Bruce’s mother was part German, so his upbringing wasn’t like the other kids in Hong Kong. Born different, Bruce was no stranger to racism and bullying, he faced it the first day he stepped foot in school.
In the 1960s, there was a movement known as the Civil Rights movement. Bruce knew very well what was going on. Being no stranger to racism he once said in an interview he would like to be viewed as just a human being rather than be identified by race. Bruce was ahead of his time on this issue, teaching everyone who wanted to learn regardless of skin color.
As evident in the movie “Game of Death” one of Bruce’s good friends and fellow student is the one and only Kareem Abdul-Jabaar who not only discussed racial injustice, but motivated Bruce to go out and check out books about the subject. Of course, Bruce was still an Asian man, living in a white man’s world.
Facing sentiments that root back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Bruce had a hard time convincing Hollywood that he could be the leading man.
Hollywood in the 1960s as is today is ran by mostly a white majority. During this time, Bruce would be devastated after learning he had lost a role to David Carradine, a white man, in the series known as “Kung Fu.” This infuriated Bruce, and it lit a fire under him to become even greater.
Bruce for many years couldn’t convince Hollywood of a lead role, but still broke down many barriers. He accepted many lessor roles in projects such as The Green Hornet, Batman, Ironside, and Long Street. Realizing he couldn’t get through the front door of Hollywood; he would go through the back door by taking his talents back to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Superstar
After the opening of the Big Boss (Known in the states as Fist of Fury), Bruce would enter the spotlight in the East. This film also displayed his resentment towards racism. Daryl Maeda, an assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder observed that the movie is about beating back an oppressive system, in this case Japanese imperialism. He also mentions Enter the Dragon, and how it references colonialism and racism and how a black man, Jim Kelley fights off police officers in one of the scenes representing the sentiments of the time.
The Big Boss was the tipping point in Bruce’s career. After a moment of silence after the premiere, a roar of applause followed by standing ovation lifted Bruce into Hong Kong Stardom.
Bruce would go on to make Return of the Dragon, The Chinese Connection, that solidified him as a Hong Kong Superstar.
Global Icon and Legend
It is said that Enter the Dragon is the greatest martial arts movie to ever been made. Very hard to argue that point. The movie is a culmination of Bruce’s perseverance, grit, tenacity, failure and success. It is also a story of heartbreak. Bruce would never get to witness the premiere or the implications that the film would have on all future generations.
One month after his untimely death, Enter the Dragon premiered on August 19, 1973. The film today is considered so influential, it has been archived and preserved in the National Film Registry and the library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The film was produced by Warner Bros because of Bruce’s huge success in Hong Kong. It brought in an international audience and starred actors of different skin colors and cultural backgrounds and also combining martial arts from across the globe. The film grew out of Bruce’s frustration with Hollywood, and he definitely got his revenge.
His resiliency, to break down barriers, bridge cultures, shift paradigms in martial arts, culture and film, is the reason he is an ultimate Black Sheep and why millions of people around the world have adopted martial arts as a lifestyle.
Without a doubt, this man continues to be not only a legend, but a genius Black Sheep of his time. Wherever he went, either throughout his charismatic humbleness or unrelenting work ethic, he set the pace. This man had no equal in his prime, but what was more amazing was his philosophical battles that would later lay the groundwork to his many teachings. He fought tooth and nail for what he believed in and better yet gave more than what he had to his own and future generations to come. It is clear to see that his inner Black Sheep or rebelliousness yet arrogant charisma made him an unrivaled force and for that reason we chose him to be the Black Sheep of the Month.
I’m sure we can all agree, Bruce Lee owned who and what he was to the fullest extent and well there is a higher level of respect to those that can stay true to themselves regardless of the adversities they face. Do you agree? Let us know?