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Bruce Lee vs. Gene LeBell in 1967

Bruce Lee vs. Gene LeBell in 1967

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Bruce Lee was born Lee Jun-fan on 27 November 1940, in San Francisco, and died on 20 July 1973 in Hong Kong. He has been credited by UFC president Dana White, among many others, for being the 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, and began teaching martial arts, first the Wing Chun he learned at home, then his own 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 into 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 on Longstreet, and on Ironside.

That final 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 about a gang of evil doers doing whatever evil doers do.

During the scene, Lee spars with the great Gene LeBell, who appears in an uncredited role.

LeBell taught Lee how to make Kung Fu and Judo work on the screen, setting the stage for what was to come. LeBell, who already had an outstanding reputation, would in time become one of the most influential martial arts instructors in the world.

The Legacy of Bruce Lee

When Lee started martial arts, it was a collection of countless strictly organized and controlled contradictory sets of beliefs and practices, each of which believed itself to be clearly superior to the others. It was, truly, a field in which everyone was better than average.

He left a legacy that truth in unarmed combat lay outside of fixed systems, that it had to be learned, not assumed. In short, he left a world that was ready to embrace mixed martial arts.

When MMA came along, a new system was created for the refining of technique. It's as simple as wheels on luggage - to figure out if something works in a fight, just fight. If a technique doesn't work for you, you'll know, because you will get hit in the face. The name Bruce Lee gave to his approach - Jeet Kune Do, or The Way of the Intercepting Fist - captures that reality.

And in his most popular film, Enter The Dragon (1973) Lee held a fight with fingered gloves, using strikes, takedowns, and tapping out to submissions on the ground.

It took the world decades to catch up.

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