Chuck Norris may have earned his own custom line of jokes regarding his supposed superhuman qualities, but legends about Bruce Lee have been kicking butt for much longer. And considering the Bruce Lee real story proves many of his legendary feats have a solid base in reality, consider that another knockout for Lee. Although rumors about playing ping pong with nunchucks and snatching rice out of the air using chopsticks may not be true, Bruce Lee facts include an astonishing record of physical feats, endurance, and stories about his amazing achievements.
When his legends blended into the Bruce Lee true story, epic myths about a near-superhuman man emerged. His devotion to training both his mind and body led him to master power and strength that seem wild to everyone else. Lee's study of philosophy also helped grow his myth, as people consistently attribute wise quotes and sage advice to the martial arts master. When he passed at age 32, he was just becoming a star in the US, having already gained a huge amount of popularity overseas. Perhaps because his life was so short and the world never got to see him as an old man saddled with age like the rest of humanity, legends about Lee remain strong. He will always be young and strong in fans' eyes, and the legends he created will remain unchallenged by time. Could Lee really send a man flying with only a one inch movement of his fist or knock someone out in a matter of seconds? While the legends say yes, the truth may surprise you.
At age 16, Lee began training in Wing Chun, a style of martial arts based on efficiency and simplicity that uses acceleration of body movement rather than sheer muscle to strike an opponent. Through Wing Chun, he developed an extremely powerful move that came to be known as his patented "One-Inch Punch." Using this move, Lee famously knocked a man off his feet in a 1964 demonstration, sending the man flying backward into a chair - even though Lee barely moved his fist. "I told Bruce not to do this type of demonstration again," recalled volunteer victim Bob Baker. "When he punched me that last time, I had to stay home from work because the pain in my chest was unbearable." People who measured Lee's speed calculated his fist moved at 190 kilometers, or about 118 miles per hour, during this punch.
The reason Lee's punch was so effective can be explained though math and physics. Considering a straight line is shortest distance when measuring between two points, the punch followed a straight line to move the fist forward without pulling the arm back to swing. The power of the punch started with Lee's feet as he turned, rotating his body in a circular motion and creating movement that traveled up his body and gained momentum. By the time this kinetic energy reached his fist, it was much more powerful than a strike, which relied only the the arm muscles. By not bending his wrist, the energy was directed entirely forward toward the opponent.
In other words, Lee's One-Inch Punch took every muscle and bone in his body working together to create the strike, allowing him to seemingly have the strength of Superman in just one hand.
While Lee taught martial arts in Seattle in the early 1960s, some practioners grew angry at Lee's willingness to move away from traditional martial arts forms, develop his own style, and according to some stories, accept western people as students. Karate practitioner Yoichi Nakachi was among those against Lee's philosophy and challenged Lee to a fight. According to Jesse Glover, one of Lee's students, Nakachi became insistent Lee fight him and often showed up at demonstrations to harass him. "Bruce asked several students if they thought that he should fight the karate man, and they all told him that he should ignore the guy," Glover recalled. Eventually, Lee grew weary and gave in to Nakachi's demand. They scheduled a time to meet at the YMCA with five other people watching from the sidelines, and Glover claimed he warned Lee not to go all out in case he seriously injured Nakachi.
"The karate man threw a front kick, and Bruce blocked it with a forearm block." Glover remembered. "He followed his block with a series of straight punches which drove the man across the room. When the man ran into the wall, he tried to grab Bruce, but Bruce spun and hit him with a double punch to the chest and head. The guy flew through the air, and Bruce chased him. Bruce threw a kick the instant the karate man's knee touched the floor. I yelled for them to stop, and the karate man fell back unconscious to the floor." According to legend, this exchange took only 11 seconds. Nakachi eventually regained consciousness but suffered a fractured skull.
To say Lee's training routines were intense would be an understatement, but the speed and power he created through extreme workouts made him not only a martial arts legend but an alleged world-record holder. According to reports, Lee had the ability to punch nine times a second, could do push ups using only one finger, and was so agile, he could jump 8 feet into the air from a standing position. It's not entirely certain if these facts are completely truthful, but Lee's physical strength was so powerful, it is true he needed special equipment to help him train. After reportedly destroying a punching bag with a side kick and slamming another so hard it swung back and hit the ceiling, it became clear Lee needed to invest in more specialized training equipment.
In order to practice his kicks, Lee had to use a 300-pound punching bag that could stand up to his power. "He was so strong, that he'd do his exercises on this bag, and then, if he went to one of the regular bags, he'd blow it away," remembered Richard Bustillo. To practice hand strikes, Lee redesigned a dummy with hard wood and metal elements to withstand his blows. To align with his intense personal training needs and support his practice of Jeet Kune Do, Lee also developed special training devices to practice specific movements such as leg sweeps, hand grip, and strikes involving an opponent's head. Lee also relied on special equipment so those training with him didn't get hurt, although it sometimes couldn't be avoided. After an assistant suffered a dislocated shoulder from holding a punching bag for him, Lee said, "I don't understand how he could get hurt. I didn't really hit that hard. Actually, the blow was more of a slap than a punch."
In 1966, Lee began work on The Green Hornet television series as Kato, his first introduction to American audiences. In trading the streets and martial arts studios for a film set, Lee learned his movements had to be wider and flashier to register with audiences, something he found difficult since it contradicted his simple, efficient style. The fact Lee moved so quickly caused other problems for the production since the camera couldn't follow his actions. "At first it was ridiculous," Lee remembered. "All you could see were people falling down in front of me." In order to solve the problem, producers asked Lee to slow down, but this still wasn't enough to capture his movements. "Even when I slowed down, all the camera showed was a blur," Lee said. Eventually, the crew learned the combination of Lee using slower movements and running the film at a faster speed in order to play back as slow motion solved the problem.