By Clifford Sawhney
The cult of the Dragon—Bruce Lee was one of the greatest martial arts experts
Until Bruce Lee burst on the scene like a fiery meteorite, martial arts masters rarely taught the art to the non-Chinese. And most practitioners learnt only one style. An inveterate iconoclast, Bruce Lee first took up wing chun—a branch of kung fu—then learnt karate, taekwondo and other martial arts before amalgamating the best of these into jeet kune do (JKD).
Bruce Lee was always receptive to new techniques. When Jhoon Rhee, a taekwondo expert, taught Lee the sidekick, he quickly mastered it, including this in his JKD repertoire. Before, he used only low kicks to the legs, since wing chun has no high kicks. But after meeting Chuck Norris, he included high kicks too!
Born Lee Hsiao Lung in San Francisco in 1940, Bruce Lee was the son of a famous Chinese opera singer. He later moved to Hong Kong and became a child star in films. A loner, he constantly got into fights and turned to kung fu for discipline. He trained in traditional wing chun kung fu under Hong Kong’s legendary Grandmaster Yip Man.
In 1959, he moved back to the USA. His independent streak flowered, resulting in jeet kune do, which is called ‘the formless form’ because one of its main principals is to use whatever works and be bound by nothing. Literally, ‘jeet kune do‘ means ‘the way of the intercepting fist’. It uses some of the same principals as wing chun and borrows from Western boxing, fencing and other arts.
Bruce Lee was famed for his mastery of the one-inch punch. An untrained person punches with just 20 per cent of body weight. Lee put much more body weight into a punch very quickly from a short distance. He regularly gave martial arts displays at exhibitions and his prowess won him small roles in Hollywood films and had major stars like James Coburn, Steve McQueen and Lee Marvin vying to train under him. Spotted by a TV producer, he bagged The Green Hornet series—popular in the US and a rage in Hong Kong. Producer Raymond Chow from Golden Harvest then signed him for the martial arts flick, The Big Boss.
The cult of the Dragon was born. It peaked in 1973 when Enter the Dragon was released. Bruce Lee was catapulted to super-stardom and martial arts became a global phenomenon, spawning a spate of martial arts movies and Bruce Lee wannabes like Jackie Chan. A few more Dragon films—Return of the Dragon, Fists of Fury, Game of Death—saw a flurry of martial arts schools opening around the world.
At the peak of fame in 1973, Bruce Lee confessed to Fighting Stars magazine: ”I want to be the best martial artist. Not just for the sake of the movies, but because this is my interest. To be good I have to spend a lot of time practicing. My minimum daily training is two hours. This includes running three miles, special weight training, kicking and hitting the light and heavy bags. I really dig exercise.” It was this single-minded pursuit that had many masters—including Mumbai-based Sensei Pervez Mistry of the All-India Karate-do Federation—admitting that Bruce Lee was one of the greatest martial artists of all time.
His last film, Game of Death, was never completed. In late July 1973, Lee was at a costar’s residence and complained of a headache. The actress gave him a tablet of equagesic. Some time later, Bruce Lee went into a coma, apparently induced by an allergic reaction. He was just 32 when he bid an abrupt adieu.
Though of a lean frame, just 5 ft 7 in and 135 pounds, Bruce Lee’s achievements were towering.
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