Thursday, March 08, 2012

I Am Bruce Lee

Saw the SPIKE TV documentary on Bruce Lee last night. Most of it was stuff I already knew, having read a bunch and seen a shitload of stuff on him from before he was famous. Actually saw him do a demo at Parker's Internationals back in the sixties, his one-inch punch. I went to his L.A. school in Chinatown around 1967 or so, but he wasn't there, Danny Inosanto was teaching, as I recall.

Lee's picture on the cover of a magazine still sells copies, and back in the day, he was the man.

He was fast and in terrific shape, maxing out at about 140 pounds at his peak. He died at age 32; I'd have been interested in seeing what moves he came up with had he lived to be an old man. If you watch him, you can see how skilled, fit, fast, and flexible he was, but you can't really teach that. The JKD he was doing just before he died? You needed to have four hours a day to train to make it work like Lee did, plus really good genetics ...

The documentary is notable for some of the folks interviewed who knew Lee best, and there were a couple things I hadn't heard before. And some stuff they didn't speak to, but which had been hinted at along the way. A lot of what was bandied about at the time was pure rumor–the Dim Mak death touch stuff, the OD on drugs. But the official version has almost certainly been sanitized at least a little for public consumption. He died in the apartment of a young Chinese actress, Betty Ting-Pei, and the studio hushed that up. When it came out, it made the official story suspect. Supposedly, Lee and Betty were going over the script for Game of Death, but that doesn't sound like what they were doing.

Some good archival footage is included, too, mostly B&W home movies stuff not always available even on YouTube.

I particularly like Judo Gene LeBell's comments, especially about Lee being the father of mixed-martial arts, and who'd have won if Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee had fought. (He'd put his money on Chuck, LeBell said, and he'd have reason to know: He counted both Norris and Lee as his students when they wanted to learn grappling.)

For the MMA record, Gene fought boxer Milo Savage in 1963, choking him out in the fourth round. He's also credited with choking out Stevan Seagal, and was considered one of the toughest guys around. He did a bunch of movies, and he still looks like a bulldog you wouldn't want to mess with.

Check it out when it repeats if you missed it, it's an hour and a half and worth seeing. 


Jay said...

I caught the end of it last night and set the DVR to record the next showing of it. I agree, from what I saw, there was some new stuff in there. Seeing Dan get choked up about Bruce passing away actually got to me, I admit. Looking forward to seeing the whole thing as it was better than I thought it would be.

Justin said...

I'll definitely have to DVR that. Stupid me, thinking it was just a replay of some old Bruce Lee movie. Weren't there like 5 flicks with similar names to that, and then another dozen starring wannabes like Bruce Le, or Bruce Li? Or Loose Brie and his Cheese Kun Do?

I got to study under Judo Gene for a little bit, at the academy owned/run by Armenian martial arts superstar Gokor Chivichyan. Gene's still awesome.

Gene will demo a technique, and say, "But don't ever do this..." which is of course the good stuff. Or he'll get you in a submission, and say, "Who's the best lookin' guy in here?" And of course the pink gi follows him everywhere.

Mario Di Giacomo said...

I rather enjoyed it, except for Ed O'Neill denigrating Bruce as "an entertainer".

This from a man who (although a longtime student of the Gracies) is best known as Al Bundy....

Steve Perry said...

"Entertainer" isn't that much of a denigration, and I'm not sure but that some of that comes from the Gracie notion that anybody not a BJJ player isn't real anyhow. Hard to be a Gracie blackbelt without buying into that, I'd think.

Besides, Lee was an entertainer. We didn't get the Green Hornet when it first came out, so I knew Lee mostly from Black Belt.This was in the day when Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis were still doing point-tournements, and also had schools in SoCal. I checked them all out before I wound up training with Gordon Doversola in L.A.

Even then, Lee had a flair for drama. The one-inch punch demo was impressive. And he did a lot of movie-fu, high, spinning kicks, like that.

Got to love that scene with James Garner in Marlowe where he kicks out a light fixture hanging from the ceiling at least seven feet off the floor.

LIke I said, I'd have loved to see what he came up with at fifty or sixty as an evolution of his art.

Mario Di Giacomo said...

In context, though, it sounded more like "he wasn't a REAL martial artist."

The "Gracie notion" may cover it, though.

Agreed about wondering what Bruce would have grown into. Part of me suspects he would have eventually left the martial arts behind.