Why is Bruce Lee Important?
As a child growing up in the 1970s, it was impossible not to be aware of Bruce Lee. Posters of a glistening and muscled Bruce Lee holding black nunchucks, and wearing an enigmatic expression, were prominent on bedroom walls of admirers everywhere. To my surprise, even John Travolta's Tony Manero had a poster of Bruce Lee in his bedroom in the hit movie Saturday Night Fever (1977).
A neighbor brought over a pair of black nunchucks, and while standing beneath the aforementioned poster began to perform an obviously improvised routine. The demonstration was interrupted by a stunningly loud "konk" as wood impacted skull, followed by a grimace of obvious pain, which brought the performance to a halt.
The local TV station ran a crossover episode of The Green Hornet and Batman. My brother let me know that Kato was Bruce Lee and was the better pick for viewing after school. The image, movies, and influence of Bruce Lee had reached me in my own corner of an average American suburbia. Bruce Lee was everywhere.
There were films with choreographed martial art fight scenes prior to the 60s and seventies, but they lacked the intensity of what came later. A notable exception was Blood on the Sun (1945) with James Cagney. The martial art featured is Judo, and the fight at the film's climax exhibits some great throwing and Newaza. Cagney trained in Judo and sells the techniques well, but not as well as, well, you know…
The rise in popularity of Bruce Lee in entertainment, and the creation of his art Jeet Kune Do, is well documented, so let's fast forward through The Green Hornet (1966), incredible films like The Way of the Dragon (1972), and the iconic Enter the Dragon (1973), his groundbreaking book The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and arrive at the present.
To compare Bruce Lee to contemporary action-film stars, martial artists and philosophers only serve to show that he has entered a status that few others have or will: legend.
Bruce Lee has come to personify martial arts. He will likely still be relevant one hundred years from now. He will still be quoted. Bruce Lee's films will continue to be seen, to entertain, and inspire. His art of Jeet Kune Do will endure, be practiced, and passed down. Martial arts will forever be measured from before and after his lifetime. It is possible that someone else will arrive at some point, and make an equally deep and meaningful impact on martial arts, but it isn't likely. Why is Bruce Lee important? That is why.
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