The only known footage of Bruce Lee fighting for real

For a while, the debate raged across the playgrounds of the western world as to who would win in a fight, Superman or Bruce Lee? The question may seem like a trivial one, but Lee’s impact not only on the world of cinema but popular culture at large was so massive that it felt as if he had all the power of Crypton in one little pinky and was able to deliver it at the speed of light with a spiffing quip to boot. Almost singlehandedly, Lee and his films changed the face of cinema and brought martial arts into the collective consciousness.

As a star on the screen, there was nobody more powerful or fearsome than Bruce Lee, you need only ask the great and powerful Chuck Norris about that. Taking on many roles as the potent protagonist capable of delivering a punch that could send you back in time, Lee was anointed as the King of the Kung-fu ring. But what about in a real fight? Was Bruce Lee as impressive as his films and TV series had made him out to be?

It’s a question that Quentin Tarantino recently posed in his film Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, whereby his supporting lead, Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt, takes on Lee and gives him a good hiding. This, alongside the portrayal of Lee as an arrogant wretch, was enough to upset his family and see Tarantino come under some fire from the Lee family. They felt dismayed at the idea of their patriarch being publicly thrown around like a rag doll.

They may have had a point. Aside from any of Lee’s arrogance or cinematic swagger that Tarantino suggests was the worst kept secret in Hollywood, the family were indeed right in one aspect: there is no chance Cliff Booth is beating up Bruce Lee, as this clip from 1967 will prove. It may be grainy, but below we have some of the only known footage of Lee in a real fight.

The clips below were all shot during a few match-ups at the Long Beach International Karate Championships. It was here, three years earlier, that Lee demonstrated his martial art party tricks, such as the two-finger push-up and his notorious one-inch punch. These acts caught the attention of Hollywood and saw him star as Kato on The Green Hornet.

In these bouts, Lee not only uses his own Jeet Kune Do technique, a composite of various martial arts philosophies but demonstrates a supreme sense of control and lethal delivery. “First, he fights Ted Wong, one of his top Jeet Kune Do students,” says Twisted Sifter, the YouTube user who uploaded the clips. “They are allegedly wearing protective gear because they weren’t allowed to fight without them as per California state regulations.”

Displaying the speed and severity which would make him a star, Lee is recognisable in the white protective gear. Many commenters suggested that Lee adopts a style more commonly used in MMA in the 21st century. It’s a reminder that Bruce Lee didn’t just break down barriers in cinema but, arguably, changed culture as we know it, whether Mr Tarantino thinks he is arrogant or not.

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