Some critics of Bruce Lee often point out his lack of tournament fighting record as supposed proof that he could not fight.
However this only proves their lack of knowledge of how Martial Art tournaments in 1960’s America were organized and handled.
But first let’s look at where he came from although born in San Francisco, Bruce Lee grown up in <em>Hong Kong</em> and according to his parents he was not the most well behaved boy getting into many street fights and being involved in gangs.
According to his relatives this type of street fighting got him wanting to learn martial arts for supposedly defending himself. As many people might know he has settled on <em>Wing Chun.</em>
According to <strong><em>Wong Shun Leung</em></strong>a Chinese Martial Artists and someone who personally knew Bruce Lee back in <em>Hong Kong. Kung Fu </em>competitions back in 1950 -1960 were called <em>Beimo </em>competitions that were semi-organized bare knuckle fights with no rules no safety equipment and no time limits, incidentally they were also illegal.
Although due to their illegal nature it is unlikely that official records were kept but it is reasonably safe to assume that Bruce Lee just as many other<strong><em> Kung Fu</em></strong> fighters had taken part in such fights in his early years. In addition it would also be safe to assume that he might have lost or won some of them as it is unreasonable to think that Bruce Lee was a great fighter from the day he was born. However if it makes you feel better I do not know of any fighter past or present who has not lost at least one fight in their career, as losing is also part of learning.
When Bruce Lee moved to America he was against faced with another obstacle that would have prevented him from entering a martial art tournament.
The fact is although Karate style tournaments flourished from 1960 -1980, it was not until the 1980’s when <em>Kung Fu</em> style tournaments started to be officially organized. For this reason any <em>Kung Fu</em> practitioner wanting to take part in a Martial Art tournament needed to do so under the rules and regulations sanctioned by judges of Karate.
This of course would greatly disadvantage any <em>Kung Fu</em> fighters if not but for the simple reasons that Karate is based on a point system which works on the first come first served basis whereas after each point scored the competitors are separated and start again with no kicks allowed below the belt.
Whereas <em>Kung Fu</em> specially the <em>Wing Chun</em> style of <em>Kung Fu</em> is based on a series of punches and low kicks to the leg and is also known as the “science of infighting”. So why would Bruce Lee be interested in taking part in such competitions?
Here I would like to point out that Bruce Lee did enter an amateur boxing tournament in college that he has consequently won defeating the then champion. Granted it was an amateur boxing match but never less at that time Bruce Lee was not the highly trained martial artist he had latter become but only an 18 years old Chinese young man with 4 years of <em>Wing Chun</em> training and very little if no training in boxing. Furthermore this makes him quite possibly the first martial artists in America at least, who took part and won an official full contact tournament fight in a different fighting style from his own.
Latter on during Bruce Lee’s life he was challenged to a <em>Kung Fu</em> match by another practitioner of the art. A match that Bruce Lee has won but did not feel satisfied with the outcome and more importantly his own level of fitness and combat effectiveness.
This incident caused Bruce Lee to focus his efforts on fitness and the development of full-contact fighting of course this system was to be latter become<strong> Jeet Kune Do </strong>but as for the opinion of this writer Bruce Lee might have been better of just calling it. “Fighting”.
Either way a problem you will face when researching and training for full-contact fights with a no-hold barred anything goes attitude at a time when nobody else on a large scale anyway is focused on it is well simply put you will have no competition. It is also interesting to point out that attacks to the legs as in kicking were not allowed in American Full Contact Karate till after 1974 (little hard to enter when you passed away in 73) and the use of knees and elbows were also banned for a long time after that. Techniques that were already incorporated into Bruce Lee’s<strong> Jeet Kune Do </strong>in addition to wrestling, throwing and grappling.
Now I am sure that Bruce Lee could not beat a modern<strong> MMA </strong>fighter but neither could Benny “The Jet” <strong>Urquidez, </strong>Joe Lewis, Don “The Dragon” Wilson or any fighter from the<strong> 70’s – </strong>80’s. This is not because these people could not fight, as all of them have proved themselves as accomplished fighters.
It is fascinating and a credit to Bruce Lee’s genius as Martial Artists that 50 years ago he has recognized the limitations of sticking to one particular style of fighting and not just studied different arts but integrated them into a system of fighting covering both combat effective stand up kicking, punching but also throwing and grappling techniques long before the development of <strong>MMA </strong>as we know it today.
So the question is could have Bruce Lee entered a Karate competition in the<strong> 60’s -70’s</strong> yes, could he have used <em>Kung Fu</em> to win well no, could he have used <strong>Jeet Kune Do</strong> to win again the answer is no, not without risking disqualification anyway. So in this case what would have been the point of competing?
I for one am glad he chose not to pursue the career of a point fighter but instead focused on the developing<strong> Jeet Kune Do</strong>, which eventually led him to the movies. At least this way I have the pleasure of watching a master in action.
Finally a quote from Bruce Lee: “More and more I believe in [the fact that] you have two hands and two legs, and the thing is how to make good use of yourself – and that’s about it.” -<strong> Jeet Kune Do </strong>by Bruce Lee