We recently saw the 75th anniversary of the birth of arguably the most celebrated martial artist of all time: Bruce Lee. An artist, actor, and philosopher, Lee set the bar for a generation of martial arts film buffs. While others have come close, none have touched the master.
One of the more interesting contributions Lee made to martial arts was his mastery of many forms, yet the rejection of form at all. As a young man, Lee became involved in a few street fights, so his parents decided it was time for him to learn some self-defense. His father began the training, but eventually Lee studied Wing Chun in a formal setting. Unfortunately, the fights continued and eventually Lee was sent to America to live with family there. He began teaching martial arts as he understood them, and it was this journey that led to his belief that street fighting should not simply be one form or another.
The “style of no style” emerged, using training combinations of martial arts, fencing, boxing, weight training, running, and stretching. This unmeasured and chaotic form of training was what Lee believed would make the most successful street fighter. The rigidity of the different forms prevented him, he believed, from adapting to the unexpected in street fighting, so a more well-rounded approach to training would make him a more flexible fighter.
It certainly gave him a leg up in the film industry. To this day, no martial artist has developed an original approach and adapted it to the screen the way Bruce Lee did. Fight sequences in a Lee film seem natural, spontaneous, and sincere, while too many others seem orchestrated, dampened, and artificial. There simply is no film in 2015 to hold a candle to Enter the Dragon or Fist of Fury, largely because Lee insisted on so much input and control during filming.
Perhaps with the resurgence of martial arts in television and film, artists will be motivated to seek the purity of the Lee genre of martial arts and its expression in film. Until then, we content ourselves with worthy attempts to revive the philosophy, scale, and power of Lee’s life in martial arts and film.