Return of the Dragon: How Bruce Lee Predicted the Future of Fighting

Published by FightLand


Everyone remembers their first time watching Enter the Dragon, it’s full to the brim with 1970s clichés.

John Saxon plays the loveable rogue. He’s plagued by money problems, but one flash of his glorious chest hair and he can convince women half his age to jump into bed with him. Meanwhile, Jim Kelly plays the black guy just trying to get a fair shake.

A surprisingly slow burner as martial arts flicks go, Enter the Dragon only really explodes into all out action when our hero, Bruce Lee is caught in the antagonist’s underground lair with about thirty minutes left of the movie. Here his black tactical turtle neck is conveniently ripped, so he peels it down to the waist, exposing that ludicrous eight pack.



Stupid, sexy Lee.

Then he’s attacked by wave after wave of guards: confiscating, using, and discarding a handful of different weapons as he works his way through them. It’s silly, but it’s absolutely hypnotic.

This segment climaxes with the infamous ten second clip which was cut from many versions of the film, where Lee breaks out the nunchucks. This scene was censored in many countries because every child—and plenty of adults—who saw the film immediately went out and made themselves a flail. Shortly thereafter, they whipped themselves or a friend in the eye with it. That is why to this day California can’t have nice things.

But Enter the Dragon is only half of Lee’s legacy. The other half was released after his death: The Tao of Jeet Kune Do. A text which was largely comprised of Lee’s own notes, it is often assumed to be his own work when really it is in many places a mash up of direct quotes from his own influences—the boxing of Edwin Haislet, the philosophies of Jiddu Krishnamurti and so on. But we are all a product of our influences.

What is fascinating about Lee’s writings is that he was a Wing Chun master—a star pupil of the great Yip Man through his teens. He could have stopped there and repeated the same stuff forever; everyone else at the time did. You were a karate man, or a judo man, or a kung fu man. But Lee learned everything he could—becoming the godfather of martial arts cross training.

In recent years it seems that Bruce Lee was in many ways a prophet. In his process of absorbing what is useful and discarding that which is useless, Lee accurately predicted the future of mixed martial arts and combat sports. Many of the factors which featured so heavily in Bruce Lee’s own teachings and philosophies were thought to be useless even five years ago and have come full circle to make the MMA world sit up and pay attention.

The Side Kick

The side kick has been a staple of kung fu flicks since long before Lee got onto the scene. But for Lee, the side kick was an obsession. Every movie he made, he showed it off. The side kick exists in Wing Chun but it was when Lee met the Taekwondo practitioner, Jhoon Goo Rhee and asked him for pointers that he truly came to master the kick.

Also how I make my way to the floor when my song comes on.

Mixed martial arts used to be a game striking game built from bare bones Muay Thai. Roundhouse kicks and squarer stances. In recent years though, we have been seeing a move in many of the sports elite strikers towards a more side on stance, and an emphasis on very low kicks—at the knee or below. This is because when one round kicks a thigh, the leg can ride up and the opponent can snag it and have an easy attempt at taking you down.

The low roundhouse kick to the calf has caught on. But more than that, the low thrusting kicks are all the rage now. The oblique kick which Jon Jones famously hobbled Quinton Jackson with, and the side kick to the lead knee are the real game changers though. They’re so fast, so long and so, so hard to catch. They debuted in the UFC when Anderson Silva needed to stay active but never actually fully commit to attacking the great Brazilian Jiu Jitsu player, Demian Maia.

But they don’t just work on guys who want to dive on your leg—Jon Jones used the side kick to lead leg and the body to pacify and break down the swarming power puncher, Vitor Belfort. Belfort likes to dash in on a straight line and pump his hands. If he gets into his range, you’re likely a goner. He just couldn’t get past that side kick though.

How about Conor McGregor versus Max Holloway? That bout was a case of constant lead side kicks to the knee to keep Holloway from stepping in.

Bruce Lee could send a heavy bag swinging into the ceiling with his side kick, but he didn’t just believe in it as a show-stopping power blow. Lee constantly compared the side kick against the kneecap to the jab of boxing. The longest weapon to the nearest target.

Lee’s sketches from the Tao.

Even in articles on self defense, Lee gives priority to the low side kick. Almost every self defense situation is a response with the side kick to the knee cap.

Just walking down the street, being groovy, when some cat tries to jump you. Wham! Side kick.

The side kick was thought to be largely useless for a long time, but Lee’s logic was sound and we’re seeing it vindicated. Plus i