To many people, Bruce Lee may just be an action movie star. But he is much more than that. He was a true martial artist, and is considered to be the father of mixed martial arts. But to truly understand Lee’s impact on the MMA world, we must first understand his history.
Lee was born in San Francisco on Nov. 27, 1940 when his family was travelling the United States to do opera shows, and moved back to a Japanese-occupied Hong Kong one year later, according to Biography.com. At the age of thirteen, Lee began to take Wing Chun –a division of Kung-Fu- to become a better fighter because he got into many street fights. But as he practiced more and more martial arts, he came to realize that he didn’t need to get into fights to feed his ego, as learning martial arts instilled his confidence. With this realization, he began to enlist himself in activities which helped improve his body.
When he finished high school, his parents decided to send him back to the U.S. because they felt he didn’t have any educational goals and recognized that he didn’t possess good enough grades to get into post-secondary schools overseas. In 1959, he began his journey back to San Francisco, The Bruce Lee Foundation wrote.
He moved to Seattle to live with a family friend after a short-lived stint in the Bay area. While there, he attended a technical school to receive high school credits and graduate so that he can go on to higher education. Once earned enough credits to graduate, he enrolled at the University of Washington and majored in philosophy, a discipline which helped him become a better martial artist.
It was during his college years which elevated his status as a martial artist, as he attracted many people into learning his style of Kung-Fu. Because of the success, Lee made the decision to become a full-time martial arts practitioner and opened a school to teach his art to anyone who was interested. This angered a group of Chinese Kung-Fu artists from San Francisco, as they believed the sacred fighting art should not be taught to non-Chinese students. So to settle the dispute, they challenged Lee to a no-barred fight, which Lee won by pinning his opponent down for nearly three minutes, Shannon Lee recalled of her father’s telling of the story. But even though the bout was won, Lee was disappointed with his conditioning and his lack of techniques. This is when Jeet Kune Do –his brand of fighting- evolved as Lee began to learn other martial arts, began to train his physical fitness, and began to philosophize readying yourself for anything.
One of Lee’s most famous quotes speaks about being able to adapt to anything and everything as you can never know where a fight will take you, thus you have to be ready for every element of the fight. From Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey:
“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless –like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend,” Lee said, while reciting lines he wrote for his role for the short-lived TV series Longstreet.
Lee’s martial arts philosophy should be taken into consideration by every fighter because it teaches the fighter to be flexible with training techniques, and to use what works and discard everything that doesn’t. As well, it teaches about feeling the fight rather than over-analyzing it –philosophies which should be important to all fighters.
Lee died on July 20, 1973 in Hong Kong at the age of 32, but his legacy as a martial artist and his influence on mixed martial arts will never be shattered in our memories.