The Tragedy Of Bruce Lee


I may be more Martial Arts nerd than Martial Artist. I love Martial Arts in all its forms, both practical and theatrical. I train submission wrestling and when I’m not training it, I’m breaking down YouTube videos for myself. And when I’m relaxing, I’m often watching Martial Arts movies.

During my childhood, the preeminent Martial Arts star was Rocky (yes, boxing is a Martial Art). But in second position was the still active JCVD (if you’re a fan, you know who I’m talking about). Chuck Norris was still Missing in Action…and Chuck lead me to Bruce Lee.
I’m a sucker for anything Bruce Lee (and Muhammad Ali, as well). But I don’t view Bruce Lee’s life as heroic. I find it tragic. I want to share with you that tragedy.

Before he was the Bruce Lee that we all worship, he was receiving another kind of worship…as a child actor. Did you know he was a child actor in Hong Kong? Did you know he made twenty films as a child?

Think about that for a moment. Think how child actors, especially famous child actors turn out as adults. Consider that Bruce was among the most famous of the child actors in Hong Kong. And there’s something else to consider.

Fame didn’t start with him. His Father was famous, too. He was one of the leading Cantonese opera and film actors at the time, and his fame continued to grow.

I believe that his Father’s fame and Bruce’s early fame was a driving force in his life. And I believe it was the catalyst for the end of his life. I believe the fame was the father of the tragedy of Bruce Lee.

An interesting thing happened before Bruce was Bruce. When he was child in Hong Kong, the Japanese invaded. And that was a big interruption in his life.

His Dad, the famous actor, no longer had his status. As Bruce captured in his films, the occupied Chinese were treated like “dogs” by the occupying Japanese. The Japanese not only took Bruce’s family’s elevated status but even further humbled them. This wasn’t the only time it happened in Bruce’s life.

When Bruce came to America, he was humbled again. He was a dishwasher. But he wasn’t just disadvantaged economically. He was disadvantaged racially, as well.

Just as the Japanese treated him as second class, the whites he encountered treated him much the same. This dichotomy of idolization from Hong Kong and near desecration by everyone else was a driving force for him. It may have been the driving force of the tragedy.

Bruce’s regained some semblance of celebrity in the US. It came first as a Martial Artist when he demonstrated feats of strength and martial prowess at Martial Arts exhibitions. This lead to him training celebrities.

And training celebrities lead to him being on film again…but this time as a Martial Artist. That’s not quite accurate. He wasn’t just a Martial Artist. He was also a servant, as Cato, in THE GREEN HORNET.

He went from being treated second class in his invaded country, then again in his birth country, and now on screen.

In every way, he was humbled. The final humiliation was when a white actor, David Carradine, became the star, instead of Bruce in Bruce’s idea, KUNG FU.

Following the low of having the television show KUNG FU developed without him, Bruce found himself back in Hong Kong. But when he came back, he found himself to be even more famous than he was as a child. Even more famous than his Father.

Piggy backing off his fame from playing Cato in THE GREEN HORNET, Bruce was able to make his own Martial Arts films in Hong Kong. He became the leading man of Hong Kong. Almost all the wrongs of his life had been righted…save one.

And that’s when America became interested again in Bruce. Could he ascend to the greatest of heights and become the most famous action star in world? Enter…the Dragon.

Bruce’s final ascension to fame was taking its toll. As he worked non-stop to make his movies, both in Hong Kong and stateside, he had to deal with the consequences. His body was fighting back.

In order to look as he did and produce the movies…he traded his health. His body ached and so he used drugs (both prescription and non-prescription) to ease the symptoms. He put his fame above his health. And a pharmacological misadventure cost him his life.

Some see the life of Bruce and all that he accomplished as a victory. While it wasn’t a defeat, I believe it was a tragedy. There was so much more he could have offered the world of entertainment, martial arts (mixed martial arts took 20 years to really arrive after Bruce’s passing), philosophy…and most importantly, his family. The tragedy of Bruce was that he was a martyr to his fame before he achieved Mastery…of all his crafts.

Is Your Grappling the Answer to Every (Sport) Problem?

It wasn’t long before I became disillusioned with BJJ. It started in class. I saw college wrestlers (some, but not all D1) come in and mop up the floor with everyone Purple and below as well as a good percentage of the Browns and Blacks. Once they knew submission defense, they beat all the Browns. If they took off their Gis, the Black Belts couldn’t get them.

I saw this same trend in MMA. For the most part, Black Belt BJJ fighters can’t get wrestlers to the ground, or keep them on the ground, sweep, or submit them once they are there. Wrestling has proven itself to be the dominant Martial Art.

So what to do? “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” Should we take off our kimonos and put on a singlet?

I think we should take off the Gi, but I don’t think we should necessarily become wrestlers. But I do think we should specialize…Specialize in answering the curious problem wrestlers pose.

We’ve got to shed the maximum amount of BJJ philosophy and practices that aren’t helping us against them. We’ve also got to adopt the minimal amount of wrestling we need to defeat them. We’ve got to find a way to get the fight to the ground, keep it on the ground, learn how to sweep them, and submit them.

If we can do this, we can reclaim the top spot in both grappling and MMA. But make no mistake, wrestlers are #1…by a big margin. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

Movement & Technique


I love this translation,
“When I move…techniques are born.”
But I think there is a far more textured way to look at it.

All techniques are made of movements…but not all movements.
There are movements to make and movement not to make when performing techniques.

For each technique, there is a correct way to perform it.
-Eyes go here
-Hand goes here
-Elbow goes here
-Knee goes here
-Foot goes here
-etc, etc.

These techniques are often judged by how they look.
But what is often forgotten is that while a technique can look good,
there is something else far more important
that makes it a good technique.

When performed correctly,
your techniques will move you into base (a good base of support)
or keep you in base.

Martial Art doesn’t really happen alone,
to truly practice Martial Art,
you need someone to practice with.

And no matter which branch of Martial Art you practice,
all techniques have one thing in common:
they move your opponent

Just as your techniques can you move you,
there are two ways they can move your opponent:
-into base
-out of base

An ineffective technique would move your opponent into base.
An effective technique would move your opponent off base.

Effective techniques are the movements you make that move you into base and your opponent off base.

No matter what it is: a kick, a punch, a knee, and elbow, a block, a parry, a slip, a trap, a trip, a takedown, an escape, a reversal, or a submission…Make it so that you move into base and your opponent moves out of base.  This is the basis of all effective martial art.

When Is It Time To Start a New Martial Art?

When is it time to start a new Martial Art?
I don’t know the answer to that question.

Hopefully in writing this, I come to some clarity on this issue.

A new Martial Art cannot be defined only by techniques
No effective Martial Arts has an entirely unique set of techniques.
As far as grappling arts go, there are many common techniques shared across the spectrum of arts.

A new Martial Art cannot be solely defined by its aim. If that were the case, there would be only one grappling art, one striking art, and one submitting art.

Perhaps a new Martial Art is more defined by its rules. What is allowed and what is not allowed has to shape what is included and what is excluded from the art.

The easiest answer of what defines a Martial Art may be who created or codified the Martial Art: Kano’s Judo, Gracie’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or Oyama’s Kyokushin.

My guess is that what really defines a Martial Art is its philosophy. There would be no Aikido, no JKD, no SPEAR without the philosophy behind (and now science) it.

It could be a combination of all these elements mentioned and others unmentioned that necessitate the start of a new Martial Arts. Is “Going With” and “Stopping?” enough to merit a new Martial Art? I think so. What about you?

Believing In A Chorus Of Non-Believers

iStock_000017929751SmallThe way I prescribe Martial Arts to be practiced
and the way it is taught in the dojo
probably couldn’t be more different.

So what does one do to apply the principles and practices taught here?

We need training partners, multiple training partners,
and where are our training partners?
At the Dojo.

So here is a short little post about how to do our own thing in the midst of everyone else.

If your instructor is cool with you skipping those, I recommend that.
Even if your instructor is cool with it, a lot of other the students may not be…so be warned. If you’re not going to skip warm-ups, then accentuate the parts of the warm-ups that feel good and limit the parts that don’t (i.e. shrimp to one side, etc).

Have your partner put their weight in the direction they need to in order for the technique to be applicable. Try out the technique once or twice in drilling. If it is not going to be a part of your game, spend more time learning how to defend it.

If you can do positional rolling most of the time, I would recommend that. If not, start in the position you have been drilling from. You only have to roll as much to find out what you are unsuccessful. Then go back to drilling. Come back to rolling when you think you’ve internalized your drills.

If you are focusing on drilling at least three times per week and working up to game speed in your drilling, you probably won’t need extra conditioning. If you’re not getting in three times per week of drilling, then I would add supplemental solo drilling with the fundamental movements (shrimp, bridge, technical stand-up, etc) that feel good to do.

With so much time at the dojo, you’re likely to not have too much time to allocate to strengthening. So when you can focus on doing movements you aren’t doing the Dojo that focus on fuller limb extension, flexion, and abduction as well as spinal extension.

I know it’s not easy doing your own thing especially in the Martial Arts environment, but ultimately it is what is best for you to do. I hope this post helps. Ooosss!!!

The “Master” I Want To Be

dirKbG9i9Things get better with time.
Things evolve.
It seems that is sometimes overlooked in Martial Arts.

To hear students talk about their teachers,
you would think devolution is taking place…
as if they have no chance of being better than their teachers.

But if Martial Arts are constantly evolving,
aren’t Martial Artists evolving, as well?
I think so.
I think the future of Martial Arts is more important than the past
which means I think the students are more important than the teachers.

It is the Master to be, not the Master that was or the Master that is that is the focus.

My teachers are my roots.
I am the trunk.
But my students are the branches.

They are what comes next.
It is my job to get them as good if not better than me
faster than it took me to get as good as I am.

If they want to teach,
It is my job to get them as good if not better than me
faster than it took me to get as good as I am.

If they want to start a school,
It is my job to help them get there
faster than it took me to get there.

The teacher who does these things for his (or her) students
I believe to be the true “Masters”
and the kind of “Master” I want to be.

Choke Principles, Not Choke Techniques

1000x1000On a recent podcast, I heard Rickson talk about his new “federation” of sorts. He stated that it was for the white and new blue belts.

I think there is a lot of wisdom in this.
At the rank of purple and above,
there is often a commensurate level of indoctrination.

I was witness to this recently with one of my drilling partners.
He was talking of the necessity of beginners the correct technique in applying a submission.
I, of course, disagreed.

Here is my argument:
I think students need to learn what makes a submission work:
not how to work a particular submission.

In order to make a “blood” (not “air”) choke work,
the carotids need to be sufficiently compressed.

Now, I may show a myriad of examples including:
-Triangle / Reverse Triangle
-Arm Triangle(s)
-Rear Naked Choke

I may even show finer points of these submissions as most teachers do but I also encourage students to use any parts of their body to accomplish the goal of the submission. Here’s why:

If we spend all of time focusing on improving particular techniques, or trying to achieve certain submissions, we miss out on the opportunity to apply less orthodox, even spontaneous submissions.

And what often works in Martial Arts is what our opponent doesn’t see coming. There are so many ways to compress your opponents’ carotids…how many do you use? How many could you?

Eddie & Rickson

eddie-bravo_rickson-gracie-600x330I am an Eddie Bravo fan.
I am a Rickson Gracie fan.

It was pretty cool when they got together here:

and here:

While I am fan of both, I am a follower of neither. For all their differences (and there are many), there is a similarity in their approach to BJJ. I think that similarity can be summarized as: they believe in stopping their opponent from moving. While this isn’t pervasive in their practice of BJJ, it is part of their philosophy. They are interested in keeping their opponent in a position.

Keeping an opponent in a position I believe to be a vestige from Judo and Wrestling. In sports where pins are one of the goals, keeping an opponent from moving makes a lot of sense. But how much sense does it make to focus on keeping your opponent from moving in a sport where it isn’t required and against larger opponents (especially without the Gi) may be impossible.

Martial Arts work but not because the little guy can stop the big guy from moving. I believe Martial Arts work because the little guy can learn to use the big guy’s movement against the big guy. I believe this to be the spirit, the impetus, and the effectiveness of all Martial Arts, thus “Movement” Martial Arts.

Reinvention, Expansion, Adapatation, and Extinction

BJ Penn Belts
There comes a time in every athlete’s life where change becomes a necessity.

When Pete Sampras was a Junior’s Tennis Player, he decided he wanted to win Wimbledon. He believed that in order to do so, he needed to reinvent himself. He adopted a “serve and volley” and “chip and charge” style game. And so he abandoned his two handed backhand and endured many losses as he was developing a new stroke and a new game.

In the twilight of his career, he expanded his game from a slicing and half volley style backhand to now include a flat and topspin backhand. Some would attribute a few of his last majors to the inclusion of these shots. Reinvention and expansion helped Sampras to positively adapt to tennis.

As a very amateur athlete, there was time when my game required reinvention. I saw how wrestlers dominated in No Gi, in MMA, and were only slightly diminished by the Gi. I then saw the Gi as a straightjacket for progress and abandoned it in an effort to address and resolve the dilemma that wrestlers pose to the BJJ player.

Over time, I have had to both contract and expand my reportoire in response to this challenge. I stay the course because I believe that principally Jiu-Jitsu, and the purest Martial Arts have an answer to the eldest of Martial Arts. While I need further expansion, I feel no need for reinvention. I don’t think a BJJ player has to become a wrestler to beat a wrestler.

The BJ Penn I saw in Penn Edgar 3 was a reinvention…a reinvention that didn’t work. That’s OK. While I hate watching someone do something that doesn’t work, I hate watching someone repeat something that doesn’t work. I think BJ has been guilty of that in times past.

The mat, the ring, and life offer us the same problem that BJ faced. To remain extant, we will need to reinvent, expand or contract in order to positively adapt. If we can’t, we’ll become extinct. If BJ Penn’s losses and ultimate retirement, he reminded us how to live.