The sport of Mixed Martial Arts as we know it today has become the fastest growing sport in the world in just less than two decades. It spans across 130 countries, and you’re almost certain to find a fight on television any time of the day or night.
Where did this evolving new sport come from, and who do we credit for bringing it to us?
The answer to that question varies, as many people have played an integral role in its development over the years. However, there is one man who is unarguably considered the pioneer of the concept of MMA; the godfather, if you will.
Bruce Lee was known by many people as many different things. He was a loving husband, a father of two children, an actor, but first and foremost, he was a martial artist.
Lee was born the fourth of five children in Chinatown, San Francisco in 1940 and returned with his family to Hong Kong when he was three years old.
At the age of 13, Lee began training in the form of Wing Chun Kung Fu under master Yip Man at the request of his parents and after being bullied by several gang members.
Yip man regularly encouraged his students to fight each other in competition rather than engage in gang fights outside of the school. Being as that Lee’s mother was half German, many of the students refused to train with him, leaving Lee no choice but to test his skills on the streets of Hong Kong.
After severely beating the son of a Triad gang member, Lee’s father thought it best for him to leave Hong Kong and pursue an education in the U.S.
Lee eventually married and had two children, Brandon and Shannon Lee.
In 1967, Lee developed a martial arts style of his own and called it, Jeet Kune Do or “Way of the Intercepting Fist," after allowing a fight with Wong Jack Man, to last too long. Lee felt he had failed to properly use his Wing Chun techniques to finish the fight quickly.
The emphasis of Jeet Kune Do, also known as "JKD" was practicality, flexibility, speed and efficiency and was often referred to as “the style of no style” by Lee.
JKD dispels the impractical forms and movements of traditional martial arts and instead combines an array of different martial arts to create one unique system; much like today’s MMA.
In this Bleacher Report video slideshow, we will feature the 15 best videos of Bruce Lee online so you can see for yourself why he’s considered by most to be the “Godfather of MMA.”
In this clip, Lee shows off his grappling skills combined with his unnaturally fast kicks and precise throws in an exhibition fight from the movie Enter the Dragon. The early concepts of MMA are no more apparent in any other Bruce Lee film than they are here.
Notice the prototype MMA gloves and grappling shorts.
Following that clip, we see Lee put the man himself, Chuck Norris, in a standing guillotine.
All of these techniques are still being used in MMA today.
At a karate tournament in 1967, Lee demonstrates to the crowd his two-finger pushups and what is known as the 1” punch.
Lee was known for being perfectly fit during his prime, and the power that he produces from a stationary position is nothing short of amazing.
A word of caution: I want to apologize in advance for the soundtrack. So, you might want to mute this one.
This next video is a clip from Way of the Dragon filmed in 1972.
This scene is live action footage of Lee performing a very real and very powerful kick to a guy holding a pad, during the filming.
Lee said that once, a man jumped the privacy wall into Lee’s backyard while his daughter was outside playing. Lee said that he kicked the guy harder than he’s ever kicked anything or anyone in his entire life.
This scene from Enter the Dragon is one of my favorite scenes from any of Lee’s films.
Although this fight was choreographed, Lee’s speed and precision are very real.
In the final scene, Lee’s outmatched opponent, O’Hara, grabs a pair of bottles and breaks them in a final attempt to defeat Lee.
During the filming, it is said that Robert Wall, the actor and martial artist who played O’Hara, was careless and accidentally cut Lee with the broken bottles.
This made Lee furious, and he kicked Wall with full force, sending him flying backwards and taking out a group of five or six men and breaking the arms of one who caught Wall.
You can see the kick at 1:56, but definitely watch the entire scene.
In this segment, Lee gives some very useful tips for developing a sound mentality for fighting in the street or in the Octagon.
He explains to James Franciscus, one of his former students, a part of the philosophy that went into the development of his art of Jeet Kune Do.
“If you try to remember, you will lose. Empty your mind. Be formless…shapeless…like water.”
This is one of the most valuable pieces of instructional film that shows Lee teaching the concepts of Jeet Kune Do to different students.
Again, Lee’s speed and timing are unmatched by anyone then or now.
I feel that more MMA fighters should learn Lee’s philosophy, as it could greatly improve their skills inside and outside of the cage.
This video of rare footage, circa 1960’s, shows Lee practicing a Wing Chun move called “trapping” with a friend, Taky Kimura.
The goal is to catch or “trap” your opponent’s arms and hands while simultaneously delivering a punch or backfist.
Notice how Lee increases his hand speed as they continue the drill.
This next clip is pretty grainy, but considering how old it is and the fact that it’s one of the few pieces of footage that shows Lee sparing in a tournament-style setting, I’d say it’s an incredible find.
Notice how elusive he is, as his opponent cannot land a single shot. Lee engages with lighting speed and then is gone.
It’s obvious he’s just toying with the guy and could finish him at any time that he wants.
Lee is the fighter in the black chest protector as opposed to the white one.
As expected of a true innovator for his time and even in the present, here we see Lee practicing his sidekick on a man holding a giant slab of concrete as a pad.
He kicks the wall to strengthen his kick and then demonstrates the true power of the kick on the heavy bag.
This is the reason why he can send a man flying 50 feet back from one of these kicks while taking out a crowd of guys behind the one he kicked.
In this extended scene from the film Way of the Dragon, we see Lee take on a gang of bullies, the main one being Robert Wall, a friend of Lee’s who went on to play another villain and victim of Lee’s justice in Enter the Dragon.
The fight scenes in Lee’s earlier movies are not slowed down and show in perfect clarity the unbelievable speed and precision of Lee’s martial arts.
While he did as much as possible to keep from injuring the other actors, there were times that Lee chose not to hold back and so, some of the kicks we see in the films are real kicks that often injured the actors.
As if I haven’t overstated my point of Bruce Lee being the fastest martial artist to ever live; here is yet another clip of Lee showing off his speed skills.
The footage shows Lee performing at regular speed and then slow motion.
Notice in the slow motion segment how Lee’s hands are faster than the camera flashes.
In 1966-1967, Bruce Lee co-starred in the television show The Green Hornet as the Green Hornet’s trusty martial arts expert sidekick, Kato.
With Lee gaining popularity on the big screen in Hong Kong, the show was marketed as The Kato Show.
Lee was known to improvise during his fight sequences and had to slow down the scenes so the audience could see what was happening.
In this scene from Fists of Fury, also known as The Chinese Connection, Lee challenges a Karate school that has been causing trouble in the neighborhood.
Lee choreographed the entire fight scene and gave us a glimpse of what would eventually change the kung fu film industry forever, ushering in the Golden Era of Kung Fu Cinema.
While this scene from the movie Game of Death is entirely choreographed, it is and always will be one of the classic martial arts battle on film.
The fight lasts nearly 10 minutes and took hours to film.
Both Lee and Norris admit to being exhausted by the end of the shoot.
Bruce was only 24 when he shot this interview and screen test, where he explains the philosophy behind his fighting method which is derived from Wing Chun kung fu.
The interviewer asks Lee to demonstrate his acting and martial arts skills on him for the camera and audience of producers, which makes the man flinch long after Lee has completed the move.
Lee goes on to explain the difference between kung fu and karate.
This interview is unedited and very insightful into the mind of the greatest martial artist to ever live.