2012 is the year of the dragon.
It would be no surprise that a sudden public interest in martial art’s greatest legend would be revived this year.
I already saw a teaser of a new documentary for National Geographic. I’m also starting to see vintage shirts resurface. Heck even the downloads of his movies and documentaries found in the internet have spiked up.
The high-pitched yell, the sculpted physique, the dazzling speed, the nunchucks, Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, the one-inch punch, Kato, the unique fighting philosophy, and the much dramatized “curse”, we are of course talking about Bruce Lee, the Dragon.
I’m a Bruce Lee fan ever since high school. I watched his movies The Big Boss and Fist of Fury with the a crazy dubbing countless times being replayed after the noon time shows at the local stations. It’s a fact how these films of Lee were slow-motioned to capture his lightning-fast movements compared to similar martial arts films that were fast-forwarded to make the actor’s movements faster.
We could also note that martial arts films from Hong Kong made during that time were based on fancy flying with ropes and fantasy whereas Bruce Lee’s films were often more realistic. And the themes of the movies? Heroic principles like justice, patriotism, loyalty and empowerment.
Bruce Lee revolutionized the martial arts film genre and was years ahead of his time. It was through him that the Western world of the 1960’s got to know Kung Fu.
It was only during college that I got to read his writings and get to know Bruce Lee, the thinker, the philosopher. Our course in Asian philosophy made that possible. After studying Confucius, Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu, Bruce Lee’s contemporary thoughts were refreshing. You could do a YouTube search to watch a black and white interview where he explains his fighting philosophy, as well as how he views art, religion, and film production.
His earlier 1950’s audition can also be seen at YouTube where a very young, unknown Bruce Lee explains “Gung Fu” to a clueless westerner.
To an ordinary, average observer, his thoughts would appear simple and practical. But you have to understand the context and social setting at that time. In the 1960’s to 1970’s, with the U.S.’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Asians looked bad. The old folks only know Japanese “Karate” from the Second World War; Chinese people were discriminated, thought of as the sick, weak, yellow people. No Asians can star in Hollywood, no Asian was a worldwide icon. While Bruce Lee was eschewing racial definition and viewed himself as a citizen of the earth, he also did not believe in any fighting style (although at first he tried to re-invent it calling it Jeet Kune Do, based on the hand attacks and arm traps of Wing Chun, he combined the stance of French fencing, the footwork of Western boxing and the ground work of Jujitsu) believing that as long as all humans have two hands and two feet, we all fight the same.
His emphasis was knowing how to react, how to think while in a fight, and how to end it quickly. Clearly ahead of his time where everyone was trying to be fancy. The modern day Wing Chun as it is taught nowadays actually incorporated Bruce Lee’s revisions. Simplicity and economy of motion.
It was too bad that his unfinished movie The Game of Death was remade and recut into a silly, stupid film, overly edited to take advantage of his name after his death.
I am lucky enough to have copies of his best documentaries, and the original scenes from The Game of Death, filmed before releasing his Hollywood blockbuster, Enter the Dragon.
His death may still be a mystery to all, but his death also made him legendary.
Thanks to Bruce Lee, the Asians got the respect they deserved in the post-war, hippie America. Martial arts heroes like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat were all the outcome of Lee’s efforts to bring Chinese martial arts to the mainstream. Mixed Martial Arts or MMA was the result of his study, combination and application of martial arts. The complex fight scenes of Hong Kong cinema, which Hollywood outsources for their choreography flourished because of Bruce Lee.
Try to find the YouTube interview to appreciate the man, not just as an actor or a martial arts practitioner, but as a father and as a man who wanted change and brought change in the way he can. This was a man who trained his body to full potential. The man who can get a coin placed on your open hand and replace it with a different coin just before you close your palm. The man who believed that no religion, race or culture should inhibit a man’s dream and potential to be the best he can be.
To all the dragons out there, this is your year!
Happy Year of the Dragon to all!