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Bruce Lee: Martial Art God or Marketer?
By Eirik Bloodaxe

Although I have been an admirer, but not a fan boy of Bruce Lee all my life, I am aware of a school of thought that sees him as, well, pretty much a market man, rather than a fighter. Here are some comments from

“If Bruce Lee was alive today in his prime, could anyone beat him?

Chris Price, 50 years of combatives.

Updated Sep 10

Let’s say he was about 130. We know he had no proper fights of any kind as an adult.

Chuck Norris says Lee never sparred with anyone.

We can figure that he couldn’t coach fighters because he couldn’t box (we have video of him using a punchbag, and he is clearly a beginner; also it seems he may have preferred to fight right-hand forward, which makes regular boxing technique difficult for the usual right-handed person); he couldn’t kick (he came from Wing Chun, which is not famous for its kicking prowess; and we have video of him learning to do a side kick, badly); and he had no background in fighting of any usable kind in the modern world. He learned a lot in the USA and he learned fast - but the concept he arrived with usable skills is fatally flawed.

He was reported as cornering Joe Lewis in PKA kickboxing bouts but since he couldn’t advise on any aspect of boxing, kicking or wrestling (he was a learner in all these areas until late in his life when he could at least demo them if not fight), it is hard to figure out what he brought. Friendship more than anything, most likely.

He existed in those times when Chinese martial arts were worshipped as fighting methods. That didn’t work out too well for them in the Thai rings back then, they all got KO’d in R1 or 2. People of his background were notable, if anything, for being no good at fighting.

We have video of him trying out a punchbag that clearly shows he was more or less a beginner, whenever that was filmed. He couldn’t punch or use the bag in any way. Video of him trying to do a sidekick that looks as if it was taken on the same day shows a person who cannot do a sidekick and is learning it.

Later he got really good at the technique, but I don’t know if he ever learned to use a punchbag. He wouldn’t have known anything about low kick as that was developed by the Dutch - they hardly used it in Thailand when I was there in the 80s.

There is some video of someone claimed to be him for a few seconds in some kind of full-contact contest on a mat, though he wears a head guard. The person is of poorly-trained beginner level by modern standards (the overall standard of fighting globally today is about a million times higher than it was in the early 70’s). Slight hyperbole but basically true.

Now if you take all that and add it together, you can come to your own conclusions.


The world has moved on a long way since then.

Lee was, however, a superlative marketer. To be fair he was a visionary and innovator, and helped put non-Western fighting methods on the map over here. He made great films, considering the era - you have to come forward to something like The Raid to find better ones in that genre, and that is a long time after.

The truth is he did a lot more outside of any fighting or coaching ability than in that area - since he would get flattened and/or choked out in seconds by any modern-day MMA fighter his weight, and would no more be able to coach someone in any kind of fight than my granny could.

He was a film maker, and a great one. For reasons unknown, young people worship films and implicitly believe all the fantasy they see in them. Films are fantasy, hogwash, fairy tales.

The day you finally stop believing the ridiculous codswallop in films is the day you’ll have grown up. Bruce Dern had a million-shot repeater and could hit a moving target at 80 yards, every time, with a black powder pistol. Bruce Lee could fight 10 people, even if they had spears and swords. It’s a film, it’s a fantasy.”

This sets out the main criticisms of Lee. I would be interested in hearing what others think about these points.

Turd America

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SwampfoxSeptember 20, 2017 11:45 AM UTC

Here's a film analysis of lee's best fight scene. The commentator does a good job explaining lee's mastery of the psychology of dominance.
responds:September 20, 2017 12:11 PM UTC

To weigh in here, there are only two records of Lee having fought:

1. John Saxon saw him beat up a local tough in a match fight on a movie set.

2. Lee fought another Gung Fu man to a draw in an American school on the west coast and he was displeased with his own performance, driving him to explore combat more comprehensively.

In short, Lee does not even rank as a fighter and was untested, but had an excellent mind for tactical deductions, psychology and the integration of the fighter's mechanical toolkit. Like most top flight coaches, Lee was not a successful fighter, let alone a dominant one, but a talented fighter who lacked "the goods" [he had a bad back] to dominate open competition and instead took the higher road to enlightenment and pioneered what we now know as MMA. Had he lived he would have been deeply involved with BJJ and FMA and hybrid weaponry and would have made the physical inquires made by the Dog Brothers and Modern Agonistics men such as myself unnecessary.
BobSeptember 19, 2017 9:10 PM UTC

Isn't Lee's success attributable to the notion that a weight and power advantage can be overcome by technique and dedication? He's selling hope to the small man.
SteveRogers42September 19, 2017 4:43 PM UTC

I agree with everything you've said. IF Lee had gotten into boxing as a kid (and had decent coaching), it seems to me that he had the raw tools to be successful in the ring. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

One thing he DID do was develop protocols for strength and agility training that were far ahead of their time. Other than that, he was a handsome, charismatic guy who entertained a lot of folks. But, as you say, even a mediocre MMA/BJJ guy or a good high school wrestler would wipe the floor with him.