Bruce Lee & The Popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (Research Paper)

This research paper is about why mixed martial arts tournaments have become popular in recent years. Mankind’s fascination with freestyle fighting championships has been shown throughout history through a plethora of gladiatorial type tournaments.

Bruce Lee: Quest of the DragonIn recent years we have seen the rise of popularity of mixed martial arts tournaments as a sport due to the advancements of such martial arts pioneers as Carlos Gracie and Bruce Lee. These pioneers had a major influence on such popular martial artist’s as Ed Parker (the father of American Kenpo) and Chuck Norris (martial artist and movie star). There is this sense of adventure and suspense when two men enter a ring to fight for the rights of the title the toughest fighter. This kind of event excites the heart and enthralls the mind.

To understand why mixed martial arts tournaments have become popular in recent years we have to look at the history of mixed style fighting events. One of the earliest forms of mixed martial arts or freestyle fighting, as we know it, was not as many may suspect to be oriental in origin. Rather it was the Greek Olympic event called Pancrase. According to the article

Pancrase – Hybrid Wrestling,’ “The ultimate goal and spirit of Pancrase is the completion of ‘Total Fight’ a collection of the best of all styles of martial arts in the world.”

This style of fighting was very similar to our freestyle fighting or Vale Tudo fighting championships that we see popping up all over these days. This type freestyle-fighting concept is a total approach to self-defense efficiency.

The style of fighting known as Pancrase pre-dates the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple and it was a hybrid mixture of stand up fighting and grappling. Pancrase was an Olympic event that showcased the best fighters pitted against one another in an arena in a reality based fight scenario. Pancration was added in 948 B.C. in the 33rd Olympiad. It is believed that Theseus created Pancrase to defeat a mythical opponent in Greek folklore and mythology. The Internet article ‘Pankration’ states that,

“the great Attica, Theseus, who combined wrestling and boxing together in order to defeat the fierce Minotaur in the Labyrinth.”

Theseus is said to have beaten the Minotaur using this combination of fighting styles. Though its origins are mythical, the fighting was real and practical which is very similar to our modern mixed martial art tournaments.

Pancrase was more than just a glorified WWE match. Pancrase was a real test of fighting skill and prowess, which required the use and knowledge of multiple fighting abilities. The opponents would start of by facing each other much like wrestlers do today. According to the article ‘Pancration’ they contend that the Pancration practitioners,

“tried to bring one another violently to the ground by grappling, hitting, kicking, leg sweeping, choking and joint locking.”

There was truly no limit to what one could do in a Pancrase competition, the possibilities where endless. As the article ‘Pancration’ states,

“All the holds in wrestling and all the blows in boxing were allowed. The only things forbidden were biting and gouging.”

You can imagine with so few rules or regulations that there truly were endless possibilities in combat the only limits where the ones that the fighters put on themselves by only specializing in one aspect of combat or another.

While looking to the past is good we must take a look at how this new phenomenon called mixed martial arts tournaments came to exist as it does in its present state. Born out of the vision from Helio Gracie:

“November 12, 1993 a new pay per view event makes its debut in America – the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The concept was simple pit eight experts in different martial arts against each other in a single elimination fight, with no rules and no time limits. To learn once and for all which martial art is most effective in real life situations,” (Gracie, page 7)

While it is may seem like a new phenomenon it looks a lot like its forerunner’s such as Pancrase and the fabled underground Kumite fights in China. One commentator had this to say about the resurgence of mixed martial arts fighting events:

“There is another popular sport that incorporates boxing, a hint of professional wrestling and just about any other style of fighting imaginable: mixed martial arts, reality fighting. And while the popularity of no holds barred fighting continues to rise,” (Johnson, page 1).

It is this kind of enthusiasm that attracts many to watch and participate in MMA events.

Many politicians didn’t like the lack of rules and the pure barbarian image mixed martial arts portrayed. Because of this many states passed laws that banned MMA events from their states and the cable companies quit carrying the pay per view event. This crippled the fledgling enterprise; they lost a lot of their fan base and sponsorship. Out of this the Pride fighting championship was born with a similar concept to pit

“the top fighters from different combative sports: wrestling, karate, judo, kickboxing, and others – all fighting in one ring under the same rules,” (, page 1).

They added more restrictive rules, weight classes and time limits in order to appease some of the politicians and cable companies concerns. This brought an increased enthusiasm in mixed martial arts events making them not appear so ominous and foreboding. The owner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship got a hold of this idea and decided to revamp their fighting competition. They repackaged their event and tried to capitalize upon the popularity of already popular sanctioned martial arts disciplines. Quote:

Mixed Martial Arts is an amalgam of already popular sports like boxing, wrestling, judo and karate,” (White, page 1).

Not only did they repackage the event itself that added more restrictive rules and got the national boxing commission to regulate it.

“SEG maintained hope that with more restrictive rules and a history of no significant injuries, cable companies would relent… the UFC debuted in the Taj Mahal in November 2000… more than 4,500 spectators, many new to mixed style fighting cheered and applauded,” (Rossen, page 74).

Bruce Lee has been a major force behind the mixed martial arts revolution. In an interview with Frank Shamrock the four time King of Pancrase and five time UFC Champion had this to say about Bruce lee;

Hakan: “Who were your first influences in martial arts?”

Frank Shamrock: “Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. Bruce Lee’s philosophies on taking what works adapting it, also staying on the forefront of knowledge has had a tremendous impact on me.”

The progress that Bruce Lee made in the martial arts and in movies paved the way for the mixed martial arts craze that is sweeping through America. If it weren’t for the advancements that Bruce Lee made in martial arts we wouldn’t have a lot of the free exchange of knowledge, training and fighting ability that we have today.

To name Bruce Lee as a key factor in the martial arts revolution we must find out what made Bruce Lee the revolutionary that he was. Growing up in Hong Kong naturally Bruce Lee learned martial arts.

“Bruce Lee began studying Wing Chun Gung Fu at age 13. Over the next 19 years, he transformed his martial art into a science, an art, a philosophy and a way of life,” (Kent, page 5).

Bruce Lee was dedicated to the Martial arts; he studied very hard, practiced feverishly and became very proficient in Wing Chun. When Bruce turned 18 he decided to move to the United States of America. Bruce Lee finished High School in the states and started studying at a local college. To pay for school he decided to teach Martial Arts. When Bruce Lee exploded on the scene he overwhelmed his new students with his raw power and talent.

“Controlling opponents offensive/defensive ability by trapping and sticking to their arms was unheard of by either a professional or a street fighter. Although his early students were very tough from a street fighting perspective, they were totally ineffective against Bruce’s speed and trapping techniques,” (, page 1).

Bruce very quickly made a name for his self and established himself as a martial artist and a scholar.

He had a strong desire to be the best.

“Bruce Lee wanted to become the best fighter in the world, not just good, but the best… He quickly surrounded himself with students who had extensive martial arts backgrounds or who were rough and tumble street fighters,” (, page 1).

This strong desire to be the best was a driving force, a motivation to think outside the box and try new things to become the very best at what he did. It was a passion he pursued with all his being.

“Lee Constantly studied, analyzed, adapted and modified all the relative information he could get his hands on. This was done through his personal library of over 2,000 books… and through his friendships and associations with many top martial artist of the time such as Ed Parker and Jhoon Rhee,” (Kent, page 5).

Bruce would settle for nothing less than the best. He strove for utter perfection in technique, knowledge and form.

Probably one of Bruce Lee crowning achievements was the total liberation from what he called ‘the classical mess.’

“His studies of Taoism, Japanese Zen and the liberation philosophy taught by Jiddu Krishnamurti to liberate humanity for all cages led Lee to back up his fighting method with a revolutionary philosophy of personal freedom,” (Fraguas, page 12).

This revelation led him to realize that there was more to the martial science’s than just classical techniques bound by the walls of tradition. Bruce Lee taught his students to

“’Use no way as a way, no limitation as a limitation’… Bruce Lee… JKD is unbound; JKD is freedom. IT possesses everything, yet in itself it is possessed by nothing… his concept was to free his followers from clinging to any set style, pattern or mold… he never hesitated to say, ‘your truth is not my truth; my truth is not yours,’” (Innosanto, page 1).

Freedom from the classical mess is what gave Bruce Lee the freedom to branch out and do what no one in his time was doing namely teaching non-Chinese Gung Fu and studying and blending other styles. During this time of personal exploration Bruce Lee started to develop the principles that would make up the style he created named Jeet Kune Do.

Bruce Lee strived to be a well-rounded fighter; he embraced all ranges of combat and styles of fighting.

“Bruce emphasized the importance of being well-rounded in all ranges… We like to use weapons in long range, boxing strikes and kicking in middle range, and grappling and trapping up close. You have to know all ranges to be good at self defense,” (Bingham, page 71).

This sounds a lot like the Pancrase fighter of old. Bruce Lee emphasized that it is important to master all ranges of fighting and not just specialize in one aspect of combat. He taught that if you specialized in one aspect of fighting that would become your weakness because a fighter that was well rounded could use that against you by fighting in ranges that you are not used to.

Bruce Lee taught martial arts as a way of life.

“The Jeet Kune Do Concept is more than punching and kicking. It is a way of developing yourself in every area of your life,” (Richardson, page 6).

“It is this Philosophical foundation that separates Jeet Kune Do from the plethora of ‘eclectic’ martial arts systems that are popping up everywhere these days,” (Kent, page 3).

“The idea is for the individual to take responsibility and develop himself or herself towards their unlimited potential. By training in the martial arts, we have guidelines for training in any other area of our life from business to relationships,” (Richardson, page 6).

Bruce Lee’s holistic approach to martial arts training was a concept way ahead of his time. It is because of this concept that we have a variety of mixed martial arts.

The search for truth in combat was essential to Bruce Lee’s teaching.

“Lee taught us to ‘seek truth in combat’… this concept and related lessons on how to search for truth are probably Lee’s greatest gift to the martial art world. They have opened the door for countless traditional and eclectic martial artist’s to experience personal freedom and self expression,” (O’Dell, page 1).

Coupled with seeking truth in combat is understanding who you are and who your opponent is. “The core philosophy of Bruce Lee was to ‘know yourself’… as the great Suntzu said,

‘when you know yourself and your opponent, you will win every time’… Lee, said: ‘we must understand ourselves in order to know anything and to understand and solve problems,” (Bingham, page 74).

When talking about the revolution in American martial arts you cannot touch this topic with out discussing Ed Parker another pioneer in the Martial arts world. Ed Parker is considered the father of American Kenpo Karate.

“Having a few Judo and Boxing skills, parker began investigating the martial arts more thoroughly, but was dissatisfied with what he saw. ‘I felt that a lot of the systems weren’t applicable in an American environment,’ Parker says, ‘Even though they appeared to be on the surface,’” About this time Ed Parker met William Chow who would become and powerful influence in his life. (Frank, page 1).

“One thing that especially intrigued Parker was Chows balance between linear and circular movements. Chow was leading Parker toward the goal of logical and practical motion, which was what Parker was searching for,” (Frank, page 1).

Ed Parker was building on a strong foundation that would only get stronger once he met Bruce Lee a man who would change his life.

Ed Parker decided to start an international tournament that would showcase the best talent in the martial art world.

“In 1964, Mr. Parker held his first ‘Long-beach International Karate Championship,’ which became the largest martial arts tournament in the U.S. for many years. It was at this tournament that he introduced Bruce Lee to the American public who became enamored with him,” (, page 1).

It was through this tournament that Bruce Lee received much notoriety and was able to land a role in the television show the Hornet because of his skillful and eloquent demonstration at this event. Bruce Lee and Ed Parker made a strong friendship and share a lot of ideas and fighting concepts. They not only shared ideas they shared students. Talking about Larry Hartsel says,

“Hartsel studied with Bruce from 1967 to 1970, along with Dan Innosanto, and also taught at Ed Parkers,” (page 1).

Beyond sharing people they spent a considerable amount of time together sharing philosophies.

“Throughout the time spent together Ed Parker and Bruce Lee exchanged many ideas about the arts, comparing and analyzing ways in which to improve concepts and principles involved in a street fight,” (, page 1).

It was through this relationship that Bruce and Ed developed strong philosophies of progressive fighting methods that would be effective in real life situations.

The first Long Beach International Karate tournament also brought to light another future martial art star, Chuck Norris.

“In 1964, at a demonstration in Long Beach, he met the man who would go on to change his life, Bruce Lee… in 1972 invited by Bruce Lee, Chuck costarred as the fighting villain in ‘The Way of the Dragon,’” (The Legend of Chuck Norris, Page 1).

And the rest is history as they say. Bruce and Chuck spent a lot of time sparring and perfecting their technique. It was through this relationship that Bruce Lee adapted his fighting style to include kicks above the waste.

Who is Chuck Norris? Many know that he did action movies and was a martial artist but what is his story.

“After joining the air force, Chuck was sent to Korea, where he encountered local Tang Son Do (later known as Karate) for the first time in his life and began training… 1962 Chuck returned to the U.S. and started teaching Karate,” (The Legend of Chuck Norris, Page 1).

Chuck was an avid learner and very dedicated.

“During a period from 1964 to 1968, Chuck won numerous titles in Karate competition and became a national champion. In 1968 he became the professional world middleweight karate champion, he would have held the title undefeated until he retired in 1974,” (The Legend of Chuck Norris, Page 1).

If you think about it if Ed Parker and Bruce Lee hadn’t had the influence on Chuck Norris we may have never be able to see “Delta Force” or any of Chuck’s other well know movies.

One of the final and most important links that has fostered this spirit of mixed style fighting is the fighting art Brazilian JiuJitsu.

“The Introduction of Jiu Jitsu to Brazil is largely credited to Mitsuyo Maeda, who immigrated to Brazil in the 1920’ and taught Juijitsu to Carlos Gracie of Rio de Janeiro,” (, page 1).

BJJ was made a household due to the advent of the UFC.

“Brazilian Jiu Jitsu really caught on with the advent of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1995. The UFC promoted by the Helio Gracie clan, was billed as the first tournament to pit practitioners of various martial arts against each other in an almost no-holds-barred setting,” (, page 1).

“ Royce Gracie made a name for himself by showing his style was more effective than all others. “The fact that Helio Gracie’s son Royce won three of the first four tournaments using his family’s brand of JiuJitsu as an art demanding serious consideration,” (, page 1).

Brazillian JiuJitsu has been tested and proven to be effective over and over in no holds barred competitions.

As we have seen the rise of popularity of mixed martial arts tournaments as a sport due to the advancements of such martial arts pioneers as Bruce Lee and others. Mixed martial art tournaments are here to stay. 



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