Celebrated martial artist and superstar Bruce Lee was famous for his crazy fighting skills both on and off screen. After kickstarting a career in cinema as a child actor, Lee came to America as a young man to become one of the best action heroes of all time. Although everyone knows Lee for his amazing moves and popular films, there are some things that you may not know about this absolute legend. So we brushed up on some Bruce Lee knowledge to bring you the top 10 facts that you never knew about Bruce Lee!
10. Fighting in the Street
Bruce Lee started his fighting legacy at a young age while he was living in Hong Kong. Street fighting was extremely popular in Hong Kong while Lee was growing up, and he quickly found his calling as a fighter in illegal matches throughout the city. Police were starting to crack down on the street fights, so in order to avoid getting in trouble Lee and his friends would engage in rooftop battles where they were sheltered from any passing police officers. This is where Lee got real life experience that he later incorporated into the choreography of his movies, by engaging in fights but also by simply watching other kids fight and assessing their style. At the time Lee was also studying martial arts under an expert named Ip Man, who actually encouraged Lee to get some real life fighting experience. It may not be the most traditional advice to get from a teacher, but it seemed to work for Bruce Lee! However, it is rumoured that in one fight Lee defeated another man who was involved in gang activities, and Lee then had to move to America to escape repercussions. Whether or not Lee was really escaping from a gang or if he was just returning to America to gain citizenship, it’s definite that he excelled in the world of illegal fighting and was already blossoming into a martial arts legend.
9. The Teaching Master
By 1964 Lee was pretty well known as an amazing martial artist, so it was only natural that he opened up his own school in California to teach students in his ways. However, this stirred up a lot of controversy in the kung fu community because kung fu was regarded as a purely Chinese art, and purists were angry that Lee was going to train non-Chinese students. Lee disagreed with the strict rules surrounding who could and could not learn kung fu, and therefore stood up for his beliefs and kept training students from all cultural backgrounds. In no time Lee was gaining his reputation as the ultimate trainer, and students were coming from around the world to try and train under his guidance. Lee had an impressive roster of celebrity students, including Steve McQueen, Chuck Norris, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. While Lee was open to training anyone, he also didn’t want people to assume that kung fu was an easy thing to learn after a class or two. In order to attract only the most serious students, Lee charged extremely high prices for his classes, but the students kept coming. Some of his most prized students went on to appear Lee’s movies, such as Chuck Norris and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Of course Lee never let them win on screen, but at least they got to share the screen with the martial arts master.
8. The Intercepting Fist
Bruce Lee not only excelled in martial arts that were already created, but he also designed his very own style of fighting called Jeet Kune Do. After mastering more traditional forms of martial arts, Lee was involved in a one on one fight with another practitioner in San Francisco. The other man proved to be no match for Lee, and Lee reportedly won within a mere three minutes. But that wasn’t enough for him. Lee thought that he should have been able to defeat his opponent even faster, but that the kung fu style that he used had limited his fighting potential by being too strict. Lee then set about defining his new Jeet Kune Do fighting style, which loosely translates to The Way of the Intercepting Fist. This was a looser style of martial arts, which Lee believed would be better for street fights and valued practicality over tradition. Lee’s goal was basically to create a style that was a free style of fighting, and he was pleased with the new opportunities that the style would create in a fight. Other people became interested in his invention, and Lee started to teach Jeet Kune Do to eager pupils in America who wanted to experiment with a less traditional form of fighting.
7. Too Fast for Film
A lot action movies today rely on sped up action to make fight scenes look dramatic and dangerous. For Bruce Lee however, he had a different problem. Instead of needing his action scenes to be sped up, he actually needed them to be slowed down. This is because his martial arts moves were literally too fast for the camera to even register! When Lee performed his fighting scenes correctly, it looked liked his opponents on camera were just falling down while Lee barely moved. That was a major issue because everyone wanted to see Lee’s skills in action, but no one realized that he was too skilled for his own good! Directors had to ask Lee to purposely do his actions in slow motion. This was the case on Lee’s television show, The Green Hornet. Some of the original footage from the show had to be completely reshot because no one realized that Lee looked like he was standing still while evil villains convulsed and dropped all around him. Another tactic that was sometimes used for his films was raising the shooting frame rate so that his actions could be caught, making sure that no one missed a minute of his epic fight scenes.
6. Cha Cha Champion
Martial arts wasn’t the only kind of choreography that Bruce Lee mastered in. Not only was he an exceptional athlete when it came to fighting, but he was also a champion dancer. In 1958 Lee wowed spectators and judges alike when he danced to the the winner’s circle in Hong Kong’s Cha Cha Championship. Apparently he studied dance almost as seriously as he did martial arts, and kept books with sketched choreography and notated dance steps to perfect. When he left for America one year after the championship he completed the journey on a boat. Even though he did not have a first class ticket, first class passengers learned about his dancing talents and called him up from the lower decks to dance with them and to teach them his smooth moves. His love for dance even made a brief appearance in one of his action films, The Big Boss. In the film he leads a group of working men around in a victorious cha cha dance, which was a unique scene for Asian cinema at that time, especially in the middle of an action movie. But Lee had the moves and the charisma to pull the dance scene off, and gave a little taste of what his award winning cha cha skills were really like.
5. More Than Meets the Eye
While he’s best known for his physical skills as a fighter, Lee also studied philosophy and drama at the University of Washington. Although he never graduated with his degree, he was fascinated with philosophical teachings and theories, especially when it came to subjects like Taoism and Buddhism. Both philosophies focus heavily on getting to know one’s self, contemplation, and harmony. It is claimed that Lee even led groups in tai chi exercises on the university grounds to tap into that mindset. He believed that martial arts was his way to know himself, but surprisingly he also relied heavily on poetry to express himself too. After moving from Hong Kong to America, Lee started to write poems to process what he was going through and the things he experienced. Many of his poems also focused on themes of nature and oneness, reflected his philosophical ideals. Titles of his poems include, “Love Is Like a Friendship Caught on Fire” and “Walking Along the Bank of Lake Washington”. Not only did the subject matter of the poems show off Lee’s philosophical side, but the very way they were structured revealed a lot about Lee as well. He preferred to write in a free verse style, without restricting himself to poetic rules. This mirrored his eventual fighting style which was free flowing as well, proving Lee’s commitment to creativity and his willingness to break the rules.
4. Lee’s Legacy
Most facts about Bruce Lee are from when he was alive – but there is an odd fact surrounding his death. After passing away unexpectedly from a medical allergy during the filming of his last movie, Game of Death, the movie’s crew was left with a conundrum. Lee hadn’t finished filming his scenes for the movie, and only about 100 minutes had actually been shot for the movie when Lee died. In order to get a little more footage to work with, the filmmakers decided to shoot parts of Lee’s real funeral to cut into the movie. The funeral itself was a lavish affair, as Lee was at the height of his stardom when he passed. Old students Chuck Norris and Steve McQueen served as two of his pallbearers, while the filmmakers tried to catch close up shots of Lee’s body to use for a fictional funeral for the film. It took a great deal of time for the film to be cobbled together without Lee, but it was finally released five years later to mixed reviews. Critics loved the scenes of Lee that were filmed, and the whole film served as his last ode to martial arts.
3. Life of the Party
Bruce Lee didn’t just use his super speed and insane reflexes for fighting – he also had quite a few party quirks and show moves that he liked to do for fun. People who have seen movies like The Karate Kid in which wise senseis can catch flies with chopsticks probably assume that that kind of thing is actual impossible… or is it? Lee had some extraordinary tricks of his own, even one that was startling similar to The Karate Kid! If a single grain of rice was tossed into the air, Lee was able to catch it in mid flight between a pair of chopsticks. This is even more impressive since Lee had notoriously bad eyesight – he spent most of his time wearing large glasses and was even one of the first people to start trying contact lens. However, none of this stopped him from snatching that piece of rice out of the air and delighting viewers. Another trick of Lee’s was a sort of magic illusion. Most magicians are familiar with a coin trick, but perhaps none of them could do it quite like Bruce Lee. He would ask someone to hold a dime on their palm, and then close their hand around it in a fist. Before the person could finish closing their hand, Lee would move with lightning speed and remove the dime before the hand could close. The trick didn’t end there though – Lee would also leave a penny behind in place of the dime! Maybe Lee should have considered a side job as a magician?
2. The Unstoppable Punch
Since arriving in America Bruce Lee wasted no time in establishing himself as the fighting master everyone looked up to. This is in part due to some pretty impressive moves he had, including something he dubbed “the unstoppable punch”. It was just as cool as it sounds – Lee claimed that he could deliver a hit so fast that no opponent could block him. This was put to the test at the Long Beach International Karate Championships in 1967. Lee went up against a man named Vic Moore to see whether or not he really could be stopped. Moore is a 10th degree black belt, and no stranger to dodging punches and dominating in a fight. Above that, he is a four time karate world champion, and a formidable opponent for Lee to square off against. The test was simple – Lee told Moore in advance that he would aim a punch at his face, and all he had to do was stop it. Lee gave Moore plenty of advance warning, and even waited for Moore to tell him when he was ready to try and block the hit. It is reported that eight times Lee punched towards Moore’s face, stopping just before making contact with him. None of his punches were blocked by Moore, and Lee walked away after proving his unstoppable punch to be just that.
1. One Inch Wonder
Lee had another epic punch that he revealed in 1964 – the One Inch Punch. It sounds harmless, but Lee proved it to be the exact opposite when he gave a demonstration of his talents. The One Inch Punch is a difficult kung fu move, and requires a high level of both strength and expertise. It’s a punch that’s performed very close to the subject, and instead of relying on a big wind up the attacker uses their abdominal muscles to pack in a whole lot of force. Bruce Lee demonstrated this move at the previously mentioned Long Beach International Karate Championships, this time with the aid of an unfortunate volunteer. He performed the punch on the man, sending the poor volunteer falling backwards. Apparently the man was so sore following the demonstration that he had to call in sick to work the next day because of the pain. We’re guessing he never volunteered with Bruce Lee again!