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An image from the Bruce Lee Exhibition to mark the 45th anniversary of his death, held at Prince Edward in July 2018. Photo: Winson Wong

Bruce Lee’s disgust for fake martial arts ‘cowards’ revealed in rare phone call recording

  • In a recently unearthed conversation, Hong Kong martial arts icon praises effectiveness of boxing and also discusses Muay Thai
  • Lee rails against ‘pathetic looking, very amateur’ tai chi and self defence practitioners, saying they embarrass true martial artists
Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is fondly considered the “godfather of mixed martial arts”. And a recently unearthed, rare phone call helps show just why he was so ahead of his time.

Speaking to his friend and martial arts student Dan Lee, around the time he was looking to leave Hollywood for Hong Kong after growing frustrated with his lack of opportunities in the US, Lee outlined some of his major philosophies on the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of traditional martial arts.

“You saw the tai chi, the self defence … well, I hate to tell you this. If you were there, Jesus, we were so embarrassed,” Lee said.

“Joe Frazier is a man who is capable of using his tools and who is very determined in his savage, relentless attacks. Whereas those son of a b***** are cowards, turning their heads and swinging their punches. After the second round they’re out of breath. I mean, they’re really pathetic looking, very amateur.”

The Game of Death and Fist of Fury star was constantly looking to increase his understanding of martial arts and felt he could never stop learning, despite having such a profound influence on its popularity.

He famously demonstrated the possibilities of mixing martial arts styles when he finished Sammo Hung with an arm bar in 1973’s Enter The Dragon.

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“A boxer, when they concentrate on their two hands, they forget how amateurish they are, they do their thing,” Lee said. “Whereas those guys go out there, they haven’t decided what the hell they’re gonna use.

“I mean before they contact each other, they do all the fancy stance and all the fancy movement. The minute they contact, they just don’t know what the hell to do. They slip and they fell on their a****.

“In Hong Kong, they really want to fight. That’s Hong Kong man, those guys see it that way. We’re losing the appreciation of the people here.”

“Here it is,” he added. “If you can move with your tools, from any angle, then you can adapt to whatever the object is in front of you. The clumsier, the more limited the object, the easier for you to punch on it. That’s what it amounts to.”

On the phone call, Lee also discussed the effectiveness of Muay Thai fighters’ low kicks, referencing American boxer John L Sullivan, aka the “Boston Strong Boy” who is recognised as the first lineal heavyweight champion of gloved boxing.

“I saw it in Thailand personally, the bantamweight champion with one of the stunt men,” Lee said. “The problem with them is that they are the John L Sullivan with their legs. No finesse.

Bruce Lee is remembered as an innovator in martial arts. Photo: Handout [FEATURES 2018]

“Not all of them do that. You can do that when you are stationary but not when you are constantly moving.

“The kick is too high, too obvious. There is no subtleness, no economy. John L Sullivan. That’s why 80 per cent of knockouts are by hand.

“Put them in the ring, man, the boxer would just beat the hell out of them. That just goes to show you.”