Friday, November 27, 2009
Bruce Lee: The Legend
Bruce Lee has had the greatest influence on the martial arts in modern times. He is the most recognizable martial artist ever--a man who transcended "just" martial arts greatness to become a cultural icon. Slate magazine called him "the Jesus Christ, Elvis, and Abraham Lincoln of the martial arts." The Bruce Lee mystique has touched fans across the world.
Bruce Lee: The Actor
As an actor, Bruce Lee almost single-handedly spawned the martial arts movie genre in western cinema. Prior to the landmark film Enter the Dragon, martial arts movies were mostly imported, subtitled movies shown in the Chinatowns of large cities. Enter the Dragon was the first martial arts movie backed by a large Hollywood studio, and today the standard for all martial arts films--all because of the star power of Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee: The Philosopher
As a philosopher, Bruce Lee's words and thoughts live on through the Bruce Lee Archives, collections of his writings maintained by the Bruce Lee Educational Foundation. Some of these writings are available in book series by Tuttle and Contemporary. Lee's innovative approach to transforming the martial arts, namely by absorbing the facets that are useful to the individual, and discarding the unnecessary, can be applied to many other disciplines.
Bruce Lee: The Martial Artist
Bruce Lee was a superstar by any metric. But his most extensive and everlasting contribution to the world has been in the martial arts. By improving and evolving classical martial arts to emphasize freedom of expression for the individual, Bruce Lee advanced the martial arts to a new level. Adaptability and efficiency were now the rule, rather than conformity and tradition.
The resulting "art of no art", jeet kune do (JKD), or "the way of the intercepting fist," incorporated the techniques Lee felt were the most efficient and effective. A voracious reader and student, Lee merged the best of his friends' martial arts, including Filipino martial arts from Dan Inosanto, tae kwon do kicking techniques from Chuck Norris and Jhoon Rhee, judo techniques from Gene LeBell and Hayward Nishioka, even fencing theory and footwork. The result was, as Lee pointed out strongly in his essay, "Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate," not "a distinct style--be it kung fu, karate, streetfighting, or Bruce Lee's martial art." Instead, Lee wrote, "JKD possesses everything but in itself is possessed by nothing."
Bruce Lee: The Legacy
While most remember Bruce Lee through his movies, and thusly as "merely" a martial artist, in real life he was a multifaceted person: a father, a teacher, a renegade, and a student, all at the same time. Lee contributed to the world in all of these roles.
Some fans exclaim that Bruce Lee was the greatest martial artist ever. Lee was truly a great martial artist, but this notion disparages the accomplishments of many other great martial artists, including the monk Boddisharma, who is credited with bringing the martial arts to the Shaolin Temple in China, spawning all martial arts from that point on.
Lee did have the greatest influence on the martial arts in the past century. The growth and widespread adoption of the martial arts has much to do with the movie industry's embrace of martial arts in film--which began with Bruce's film career.
When we look back at his accomplishments, it's hard to believe that Bruce Lee did so much in just 32 years. It wouldn't be difficult to assume it took the past 60 years to have the same impact on the world. How much more could he have accomplished, had he lived to be 60? The world will never know.
Happy Birthday, Bruce!