Happy Birthday, Bruce Lee!

Is there a martial artist out there who isn’t influenced by Bruce Lee?

Nowadays, The Dragon’s influence is a little more diffused. Whereas just a decade ago it was almost guaranteed that every gym rat in your dojo had a Bruce Lee poster on their wall at some point in their lives, now thanks to the recent and rapid growth of MMA you’re as likely to hear a new student instead cite Chuck Liddell or Anderson Silva as their initial reason for falling in love with martial arts.

But it’s all one and the same.

Lee — who urged his students to not get caught up in style-worship and the cult of personalities, and recommended that people discard his Jeet Kune Do teachings once they were done with them — would probably have it no other way. He would no doubt look positively (and proudly) on the recent growth of martial arts.

That said, an interest in Lee can open a student up to a wealth of treasures. There’s the still-fantastic cinematic mayhem to enjoy, of course, but also the unlocking of his philosophical insights, which remain as relevant to both daily life and training as ever, but which we all too often overlook, instead concentrating mainly on the physical aspects of martial practice. For Lee, these things were just two sides of the same coin, inseparable and ultimately the same thing, and it’s the rare professional cage fighter who approaches this level of insight.


Born Lee Jun-fan in San Francisco on November 27, 1940, Lee died at the age of 32 in 1973. Today would have been his 70th birthday.

We remember him now because he left his mark on the world in numerous noisy ways. His screechy, start-and-stop kung-fu scenes altered how filmmakers approached fight choreography; his reformations to traditional martial arts training through his Jeet Kune Do concepts laid the foundation for modern MMA and kickstarted the biggest evolution in combat training in probably centuries; even just his fiercely defiant face, plastered everywhere, put race relations at the forefront of popular culture and empowered an entire generation of marginalized youths.

To best get a sense of just how staggeringly influencial Lee was, I recommend checking out the History Channel’s documentary, How Bruce Lee Changed the World, which aired last year to mark the 35th anniversary of his death. It features interviews with everyone from bodybuilders and athletes, to philosophers, to shaolin monks, to movie directors, rappers and musicians, and even the UFC’s Dana White, all saying how Lee changed the course of not only their personal lives, but their respective fields and industries.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve re-visited the teachings and impact of Lee, or if you’ve yet to at all, today’s a good day to do so. At the risk of concentrating on the finger pointing to the moon and missing all that heavenly glory, we salute you, Bruce.

Happy birthday.