Bruce Lee vs. Gene LeBell in 1967
Bruce Lee has been credited by UFC president Dana White, among many others, for being the Father or Godfather of Mixed Martial Arts. The rough outlines of Lee’s career are widely known. He grew up in Hong Kong and went to the USA for college. He dropped out, he began teaching martial arts, first the Wing Chun he learned at home, then his one Jun Fan (his Chinese name) Gung Fu, and eventually his own innovative Jeet Kune Do.
During a demonstration in 1964 at Ed Parker’s Long Beach Internationals, Lee got the attention of Jay Sebring. The Hollywood hair stylist gave an 8mm film of the demo to William Dozier, the producer of Batman, who was developing a new television series, The Green Hornet. Dozier was looking to cast Kato, and Bruce Lee got it.
Lee parlayed his success in US television to roles in Hong Kong’s film industry, and the success of those led to his starring in Warner Brother’s Enter the Dragon. The result was worldwide fame, and a new attitude towards the study of martial arts – use what works, regardless of style.
It is less well known that Lee played parts in several other television series including Batman, Blondie, Here Come the Brides, Marlowe, excellent multiple appearances in Longstreet, and in Ironside.
The series centered on a wheelchair bound consultant to the police, Robert T. Ironside (real name Perry Mason). In “Tagged for Murder” an episode that aired on NBC on September 14, 1967, Bruce Lee played a martial arts gym owner who inherited a clue to a gang of evil doers whatever evil doers do.
During the scene, Lee spars with Gene LeBell, who appears in an uncredited role.
LeBell would teach Lee much of the grappling that later became an integral part of Jeet Kune Do, both on screen and in Lee’s own teachings. Lee died at the age of just 32 in 1973, an international icon. LeBell, who already had an outstanding reputation, would in time become one of the most influential martial arts instructors in the world.