Friday, July 07, 2006

Bruce Lee

Yesterday I wrote about Steven Seagal and aikido and provided a link to a video featuring both. I also said a few words about Bruce Lee. Today I want to say a little more about him.

Almost everyone has seen some of his movies or clips from them and knows that he was a Chinese martial arts movie star in the late 60’s and early 70’s before his untimely death in 1973. What many people, especially younger ones, may not know is just how much Lee fostered an interest in the martial arts that endures today, and how profound was his understanding of the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings as well as the physical essence of the martial arts. The martial arts, other than boxing, were almost unheard of in the West before Lee burst upon the scene, yet they became deeply ingrained into popular culture afterwards.

Aside from Lee’s lasting influence, the man himself was fascinating in his monomaniacal pursuit of excellence and innovation. He developed an amazingly toned physique and fantastic strength for his diminutive size using every traditional and experimental method of exercise he could. And he eventually moved beyond his martial arts roots to pioneer an art he called
Jeet Kune Do that emphasized taking “what works” from all the different Eastern and Western martial arts instead of remaining locked into traditional schools and superfluous techniques, and developing such a high degree of physical and psychological mastery of the system that one approached combat prepared to optimally respond to any opponent and situation rather than use a programmed sequence of moves that might be ineffective in a given situation. He outlined this system and its philosophy in a book called The Tao of Jeet Kune Do that he wrote while bedridden for six months after severely injuring his back working out with weights. One could say that his Jeet Kune Do was the forerunner of the increasingly popular mixed martial arts movement we see today. Anyone who has ever seen his interviews knows that Lee was a very intense and philosophical man who lived and breathed the martial arts within the context of Eastern philosophy, especially philosophical Taoism.

Here are some videos capturing aspects of the man’s personality as well as his strength, power, speed, and mastery of the martial arts:
(1) His screen test for the Green Hornet. (2) His appearance on the 1971-1972 TV series Longstreet. (3) His expounding on his philosophy during an interview. (4) Several demonstrations he gave of his skills including clips from his fabled appearance in Long Beach, California during a martial arts tournament in the late 60’s. (5) A famous sequence from Enter the Dragon. (6) More about his philosophical background.

If Bruce were alive today, he’d be 65 years old. I wonder what he’d be doing with the martial arts now and how he’d regard the developments that have taken place within them over the past 33 years. No doubt, he would have played an even bigger role in that development than the already huge one that he did.

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