I have hesitated for a long time to say anything about this topic, well aware of the fact that Bruce Lee is an idol for a great number of people and any comment which would spoil the picture of unbeatable , supreme kung fu master and martial arts genius will provoke many negative comments toward me . At the end , I think the facts , the truth is more important than someone’s infantile worship of the late actor.
Let's go back to the past in order to clarify some things about Bruce and all that he said and done. After WWII Japan has opened to the world and exported their martial arts, culture, religion ... which became widely practiced in the West, and quite
Well known, well the world knew what Japanese wanted to present to the outside world . On the other hand, China has become completely closed after the Cultural Revolution. Chinese culture is traditionally closed toward foreigners and even in the places like Hong Kong and Taiwan Chinese people did not show any desire to share their culture, customs, martial arts, religion ... with the West.
There were individuals who had brought Chinese martial arts to the USA long before Bruce Lee but no one had such media attention as late Bruce. Little was known and is not a better situation today, about Chinese martial arts, lifestyle, philosophy , ect.
That vacuum in information gave Bruce the opportunity that all the treasures of Chinese culture , philosophy, literacy …present as his own .During his short life Bruce said a great amount of vise things , on the other hand , someone who spent some time living among Chinese and reading Chinese classics can easily recognize traditional proverbs and quotations form the classical pieces of Chinese literacy , some translated without changing a some in a little more liberal interpretation.
Bruce was very intelligent and well educated person, he had graduated at UCLA University, he had a gift to explain principles and concepts of his martial approach extremely well but we have to honest and say that most of the things he said about martial philosophy are actually borrowed from traditional Chinese culture and classical literacy .
Many people believe Bruce was the first person who taught kung fu to non Chinese. That is actually far from truth. Many americans during 50’s and 60’s were taught kung fu on Taiwan. The truth is there weren’t many foreigners at east in Bruce Lee’s time and most of them didn’t show any desire to learn martial arts , those who had , they were taught. The only truth is , after Bruce’s death Chinese martial arts reached global popularity.
Let’s go back even further into the past and briefly explain some of the events related to the development of kung fu. First, we do not know how kung fu looked like and how it was practiced before the 19th century. Many styles today claim that they are very old but actually all of them originated in the second half of the 19th century or even in the beginning of the 20th century. What we do know is that old styles put emphasis on the weapon training and fighting in the organized groups. When Machus overthroned the Ming dynasty two things happened, first , Manchus forbid practice of martial arts and second, they brought fire arms,. This pushed martial arts underground and over time changed focus and purpose of training . In the second half of 19th century kung fu became popular among upper social class and focus was on empty hand techniques. It was matter of prestige not a matter of military importance or survival like it was in the past. After Boxer rebellion kung fu finally and completely changed to what we know today. It was not practice as a pure martial, military or survival skill but for self development , health , even religious reasons.
With the beginning of republican period a golden age of kung fu began.
Republic of China had seen kung fu as a way of improving quality of life of its citizens and for the first time in the history Chinese martial arts are accessible to all and many public schools where opened at the time. Furthermore, government established Goushu martial academy ,an institutions for the study and promotion of martial arts. In addition to this , government financed s several private associations of which the most famous was Chin Woo. What is completely unknown in the West is an amazing expansion and advancement of the martial styles that happened in this period. Thousands of kung fu manuals were printed at the time and there was serious work at the Goushu academy on improving and development of kung fu. All that work was printed and it was available to a broader audience. Although this work was done by many influential martial artists of the time one name rises above all others.
His name was Tang Hao (1897- 1958). The first man who publicly advocated a scientific approach to training through his book. He advocated emphasis on physical attributes rather than on form, tradition, exotic techniques. He was a representative of daily sparring and controlled fighting as a basis of training. He advocated cooperation among styles and exchange of experiences, techniques, and taining methods. He traveled tirelessly all over China and interviewd and collected knowledge from a great number of kung fu masters. He traveled to Japan to learn Japanese martial arts skills, especially bayonet traaining in which Japanese were famous and later worked on a system of training in t bayonet combat for Chinese army. He studied and practiced Western boxing and inplemnet it in the Chinese army training.
In the early 20-ies of the last century, Chinese fighters have realized the value of Western boxing and many included it in their styles and boxing became the basis of “Sanda” hand techniques . Why is this important ? As we can see all the things attributed to Bruce Lee were actually were done in China back in early 20th century and the work has been widely available to the Chinese, while on the West it was and still is completely unknown.
Bruce Lee came to the west with something about what west had no idea and he could present that as he wanted, which what he eventually done. None of the concepts and approaches that he represented were not new or unknown in the East, but they were completely new and unknown in the West. Later, after his death fans actually added and attributed to him a lot more than what Bruce Lee didand said during his life.
Bruce Lee was and still is a legend, it is a fact that will not change, a name that has inspired a huge number of people to study Chinese martial arts, and certainly his importance lies in the fact that he was the first who had such through media attention. On the other hand we have to be realistic , fair and honest to all those people who decades before Bruce Lee-I laid the foundations of modern martial arts but remain forgotten due to the political changes .. I want to speak on behalf of those forgotten whose names are rarely heard and honored, and praise their work and lives because they certainly deserve it..