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Bruce Lee – Why He Is Considered The Father Of MMA

Clouse, R. (Director). (1973). Enter the Dragon [Film]. Warner Brothers Pictures.

Mixed martial arts may seem like a new sport, but it actually dates back to the early 1900s. It wasn’t until 1993 that MMA gained international recognition when the UFC was created. In 1994, Bruce Lee became an iconic figure in the world of mixed martial arts after his death and is now considered by many to be one of its founders. But what is the reasoning behind many giving Bruce Lee this accreditation? 

Bruce Lee is widely considered to be the father of MMA because of his philosophy of combining aspects of various fighting disciplines into a personal style. This is a cornerstone principle for any MMA fighter that gets into the ring. A fighter who rigidly sticks to one discipline is disadvantaged.

In below, I will illustrate further details to explain why people consider Bruce Lee as the father of MMA.

Why Bruce Lee Is Viewed As The Father Of MMA

Bruce Lee was not the first person to mix combat sport disciplines, but he was a visionary in the world of martial arts, which challenged norms and recognized the restrictions in limiting oneself to a single style of fighting. Bruce Lee was the first well-known martial artist who conceptualized this mindset into a philosophy of incorporating aspects of various styles into your own style.

Original Incarnation of MMA

The concept of mixed martial arts as competition is not a new concept. We have mentioned that it has only been considered a sport since the early 1900s, but in actual fact, it dates back much further than that, back to the days of the Ancient Greek Olympics.

This fighting sport called Pankration was included in the Olympic games as early a 648 BC. There were very few rules to this sport, where all strikes and holds were deemed legal, and the only activities that were not allowed in the match were the unsportsmanlike behavior of biting and gouging.

The fights were not broken up into rounds but continued until one fighter was no longer able to continue the fight or offered submission, which was indicated by raising the index finger.

The sport proved to be a hit at the Olympics and was one of the most popular events that the spectators supported avidly.

This is not the only version of mixed combat competition in humanity’s history. Similar full contact exhibitions and sporting events were known to have been held in Egypt, Japan, and even in India and Brazil.

This points to the fact that mixing techniques and fighting styles in combat competition pre-dates the influence of modern martial artists such as Bruce Lee. 

How Did MMA Start?

Mixing various fighting styles in various physical combat-style sporting events became very popular in the early 1900s where there was an upsurge in the popularity of combat sports. This is why much of modern MMA claims this to be the era where MMA was birthed and from which it grew to the sport we know today.

Fighters from various disciplines of combat sports began to pit their skills against each other, often in highly publicized events, which drew a lot of public interest.

For example, French practitioners of savate, a form of kickboxing, were matched up against English bare-knuckle boxers. Savate fighters also went up against Judo champions, and boxers were matched against karate students.

This mixing of the combat arts was the birthplace of the modern MMA competition events where fighters who do not limit their skills to one fighting discipline are matched against each other.

Who Is The Founder Of Modern MMA?

The mixing of fighting disciplines in the early 1900s does not owe its origins as the brainchild to one particular person. There was no individual organizer or promoter for these events that can point to one person as the founder of MMA.

There have been some notable personalities that have contributed to the growth and development of MMA and who spearheaded its popularity among the general public.

As early as 1901, there were bouts that were organized between champions in their fields in highly publicized events. Frank Slavin, a boxing title contender, went up against wrestling champion Frank Gotch. Even the likes of famed boxing champion Muhammad Ali went into the ring with Japanese wrestling champion Antonio Inoki in a fight that was billed as “The War Of The Worlds,” which ended in a draw.

MMA was formalized in 1993 with the formation of the UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, which was founded by Rorion Gracie of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu fame and fight promoter Art Davie.

Where Does Bruce Lee Fit Into MMA History?

So, where does Bruce Lee fit into the picture of the history of modern MMA, and why is he credited as being one of the fathers of this fighting movement?

Bruce Lee was an iconic figure who gained public appeal through his movies and his martial arts prowess. The most notable aspect about Bruce was that as he studied traditional martial arts, he recognized that no style was perfect in isolation, and each style had points that worked in its favor but also had weaknesses in certain areas.

Clouse, R. (Director). (1973). Enter the Dragon [Film]. Warner Brothers Pictures.

He also recognized that people are not all the same body shape and stature, which made certain martial arts impractical for them to participate in.

Bruce Lee’s philosophy around martial arts can be summed up in his famous quotes,

“Research your own experience. Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.”

“The best fighter is not a Boxer, Karate or Judo man. The best fighter is someone who can adapt on any style. He kicks too good for a Boxer, throws too good for a Karate man, and punches too good for a Judo man.”

Bruce Lee

It is this philosophy and mindset that is the core foundation of the ethos of MMA, which Bruce Lee embodied in his adoption and adaptation of many fighting styles into his own repertoire.

This way of thinking and open-mindedness about other styles is what set Bruce Lee apart from other martial artists of his time. It is also this way of thinking that has led people to credit Bruce with being one of the fathers of modern MMA.

Is Jeet Kune Do MMA?

JKD or Jeet Kune Do is not MMA, and it is also not a fighting style. Bruce Lee himself did not describe it as a new fighting style but rather as a new concept or mindset in the world of martial arts. Bruce Lee said, “You either understand it, or you don’t, and that is that.”

Jeet Kune Do is not MMA. It’s a martial arts philosophy introduced by Bruce Lee to free people from being restricted to one style of martial arts and to rather incorporate aspects of other styles into a personal style. JKD is not the same as MMA, but the concept of JDK is at the heart of MMA.

JKD is taught, and there are movements associated with the discipline, but it was never intended to be a static, isolated style, but rather a concept that would allow the practitioner to be open-minded about other styles and incorporate aspects of them into their own style.

As such, JKD is dynamic and ever-changing and allows a fighter to adapt to their opponent and draw on a wide range of techniques to counter the opponent’s style. This makes a fighter more versatile and able to adapt to changing fighting conditions and skills that their opponent is displaying.


Bruce Lee is often considered as one of the fathers of modern MMA. His martial arts philosophy, Jeet Kune Do, in many ways was a precursor to mixed martial arts and would go on to influence generations of fighters. The popularity of UFC and other major mixed-martial arts events has grown exponentially since Bruce Lee’s death; it seems fitting that his work continues to inspire those who follow him. 

Today’s MMA fighters are still influenced by Bruce Lee’s philosophies on fighting, such as self-defense techniques and fitness training methods for any person who wants to get into shape or just needs some exercise. 

Bruce Lee had many valuable lessons he shared with people about how they could live their lives through hard work and dedication and to be open-minded about taking the good out of various disciplines and making it your own. His influence ranges from high school students all the way to fighters in the ring, and his legacy and contribution to the establishment and the development of MMA is undeniable.