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How Bruce Lee Changed the World: The Legacy of the Dragon

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

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author.

Bruce Lee is one of the most recognized artists of our modern era. Many people downplay his influence, while others recognize the impact he made on martial arts, the Hollywood film industry, and combat sports in general.

Bruce Lee was a charismatic martial artist that brought new thinking and concepts to traditional martial arts and challenged conformity to one fighting style. He also influenced the American and Asian filmmaking industry, the American public, and the world at large, making him a global icon.

Despite the significant passage of time since the passing of Bruce Lee, his impact on the world remains, and his legacy continues to influence people to this day. How did a man like Bruce Lee have such an impact on those around him and generate a global influence?

The Legacy of Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was a Chinese-American martial artist, actor, philosopher, filmmaker, and creator of the martial art Jeet Kune Do.

How does a man with this background influence a wide range of people worldwide and leave a legacy that continues to ripple through time to impact our current society?

There are several characteristics that Bruce Lee possessed that created admiration among his friends and family and impacted everyone with whom he interacted.

His focus, determination, commitment, and dedication drove him to overcome adversity and create his own success, despite the challenges he faced.

We will examine how these characteristics made Bruce Lee an influencer in the martial arts world, the USA, and society in general.

How Bruce Lee influenced martial arts

Bruce Lee is widely considered by many as the most influential martial artist of all history, and his significant impact on the evolution of martial arts persists to this day.

Early in his martial arts training, Bruce Lee studied Wing Chun, a southern Chinese martial art, and eventually developed his own hybrid martial art, Jeet Kune Do, which incorporated elements from various styles and focused on practicality and simplicity.

In addition to his philosophical contributions, Lee’s physical abilities and innovative techniques also greatly impacted martial arts. 

His lightning-fast movements and impressive strength were evident in his movies and demonstrations, and he popularized the idea of “functional fitness” in martial arts training, focusing on exercises that had practical application in real combat situations.

Challenging the ancient traditions of martial arts styles and creating a new philosophy around combat sports is why he was so influential in the martial arts community.

RELATED: Is Jeet Kune Do Same As Kung Fu? – A Simple Comparison

How Bruce Lee impacted MMA

Bruce Lee’s philosophy of martial arts was that the best style was no style. He believed that rigid adherence to a particular style hindered an individual’s potential. 

Instead, he emphasized the importance of adapting to any situation and using the most effective techniques for the given situation. 

Bruce Lee advocated learning the most effective techniques from a range of traditional martial arts and adapting them to your own fighting techniques.

This concept revolutionized the traditional martial arts world and expanded combat sport concepts and ideas for the development of mixed martial arts (MMA).

Did Bruce Lee inspire UFC? The Ultimate Fighting Championship is a fight promotion company that organizes MMA fights. 

Considering that Bruce Lee’s philosophy towards martial arts is considered to be a major influence in the emergence of MMA, it can be said that Bruce Lee was an inspiration for the creation of UFC.

How Bruce Lee impacted America

Bruce Lee’s influence extended beyond the martial arts world and into popular culture. His movies, such as “Enter the Dragon” and “Way of the Dragon,” brought martial arts to the mainstream and inspired a generation of people to begin training. 

He challenged Hollywood stereotypes and brought real action to his filmmaking. He incorporated his real-life martial arts into his action films, and his dedication to training for each role inspired many.

His charisma and martial arts philosophy which he carried over into almost every aspect of his life, including his filmmaking, made him a role model for many, and his impact is still felt today.

Besides his influence in filmmaking, Bruce Lee’s commitment, dedication, and focus on physical fitness and adapting to meet life’s challenges captured the hearts of many Americans.

The classic struggle of the underdog taking on the norms of traditional martial arts, fitness and challenging Asian stereotypes in US filmmaking made Bruce Lee a hero in the eyes of many Americans. 

Why is Bruce Lee a great fighter despite no professional record?

Many martial artists do not engage in professional fights, but this does not detract from their expertise and competency in combat sports.

Many other martial artists who achieved prowess in competitive martial arts, such as Chuck Norris, spoke highly of the fighting skills displayed by Lee, as mentioned in the following:

“The truth is Lee was a formidable opponent with a chiseled physique and technique. I totally enjoyed sparring and just spending time with him. He was as charismatic and friendly in the ring and at home as he was on film. His confidence and wit were dazzling, and sometimes even debilitating to others. […] Lee was lightning fast, very agile and incredibly strong for his size.”

Black Belt Magazine

And there is Jim Kelly, considered one of the greatest legendary karatekas of all time, worked with Bruce Lee very closely and had this to say in the following video.

Bruce Lee performed many demonstrations of his martial arts skills, and he had a reputation for becoming involved in illegal street fighting in his early days in Hong Kong, but he never had a professional match. 

Despite this gap in his resume, many seasoned fighters respect Bruce Lee’s innovation, dedication, and skill in his martial arts and recognize that he would have been a formidable opponent in a professional bout. 

How Did Bruce Lee Help Others?

Bruce Lee helped many people directly during his life, including training renowned martial arts experts, coaching actors and actresses for movie fight scenes, and encouraging the concept that martial arts should be accessible to everyone.

Most people are unaware that Bruce Lee also worked with professional fighters to dramatically improve their fighting skills in the ring.

One notable example is Joe Lewis, the father of American kickboxing, who credited his success as a kickboxer to Bruce Lee’s teaching. In the interview, Lewis mentions that he doesn’t think he could have won so many fights without Bruce Lee’s help.

Joe Lewis, the legendary American karateka
Image credit: IKF Kickboxing

The most significant way Bruce Lee has helped others is through the example of commitment, dedication, and focus he displayed throughout his life. His physical fitness regime and concepts are the basis for many current exercise programs that get people active, including professional athletes, as you see in this video.

Bruce Lee always believed in challenging limits and putting in hard work to achieve goals, a philosophy that has applications in all walks of life.

More importantly, Bruce Lee’s active challenges of cultural and racial norms of the time have inspired many people to stand up for their rights and actively work for change. His determination to succeed despite challenges continues to motivate people who read his story many years after his death!

Why Did Bruce Lee Move Back To Hong Kong?

Bruce Lee moved back to Hong Kong in 1970 to pursue a film career due to the challenges and resistance he faced in the US filmmaking sector.

The American filmmaking industry was only offering stereotypical Asian roles where the roles and characters portrayed did not have much substance.

Bruce Lee wanted to use his martial arts skills to create action movies that challenged the norms of this movie genre at the time.

His success in Hong Kong with the Kung Fu action movies “The Big Boss” and “Fists of Fury” showcased what he could accomplish and renewed Hollywood’s interest in Bruce Lee.

Final Words – How Will Bruce Lee Be Remembered?

In conclusion, Bruce Lee’s contributions to martial arts were multifaceted and continue to be felt today. His philosophy of adapting to any situation and using the most effective techniques revolutionized traditional martial arts and paved the way for the development of mixed martial arts.

His impressive physical abilities and innovative techniques also had a major impact, and his movies and charisma brought martial arts to the mainstream and made him a role model for many.

LEARN MORE: What Happened to Bruce Lee? – FAQ All You Want to Know