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It's today well known that Bruce Lee was a close student of Ip Man, widely considered one of the great teachers in the 20th Century. Although it's been many years since I studied Bruce Lee's films, it occurs to me that Wing Chun is not the dominant style of fighting Lee employs.

This is likely because Lee, like all of the great fight choreographers, adapted the arts for the lens, because real-world techniques don't often translate as visually interesting on film. (A parallel to this is Dustin Hoffman talking about acting for the camera, film acting widely regarded as the art of the closeup, where the hands often need to be raised very close to the face b/c the shot is tight.)

Lee also make other changes such as maximum muscle flex during fight sequences, not because this is how one fights in the ring or on the streets, but b/c it had a tremendous effect on audiences and created a Kung Fu craze.

It's notable that Lee, the son of an actor, was involved in film his entire life, starting as a child actor. It's often said that this can result in a deep, instinctual feel for the medium. (Examples range from artists like Ron Howard to actors like Shannen Doherty knowing when to demand lighting be reset to make them look good.)

Therefore it's a natural assumption that what Lee employed on-screen was different that what he would have employed in the ring or on the rooftops of Kowloon.

  • What was the dominant martial style Bruce Lee used for his on-screen fighting?
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    I think I remember some people being mad at him because he actually hit them in a documentary, maybe even including Jackie Chan. Which was to highlight that he wanted to show real fighting in his later films. That being said, another point there was that Lee had no style. It was "fighting with what is effective". Which is why he studied fencing and latin dance to improve his footwork, for example. So I'd question some premises of the question. Nov 3 '20 at 8:33
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    Regarding him actually hitting people, my understanding is that that's still much more common in Asian fight choreography, where stunt extras specifically get paid to get hit full force, which is actually a deal for them because normally they only get paid if the footage they're in is used. Nov 3 '20 at 12:56
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    Probably a mix. White Crane kung-fu is reportedly his primary "influence", though I'm not sure he had any formal training in it. He is reported to have studied a bunch of martial arts from books, movie clips, photos, etc. His trademark noises "Wazaaa!" are supposed to be from white crane as well. As is his trademark wings flapping move he does. Nov 3 '20 at 20:31
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To be fair, you would have to catalog every technique from every movie (3, I think) and assign them to a "style" (but what's the point?). My immediate response, though, is that Lee's predominant techniques came from Wing Chun (trapping, straight blast) and boxing (obviously NOT Wing Chun, refer to Muhammad Ali). His kicking is harder to place, doesn't appear like Muay Thai exactly, very snappy kicks and also many spin kicks. A little grapping shown but hardly as much as striking, that's for sure! Dramatic gestures taken from Kung Fu forms. Oh, I studied a bit of "JKD" back in the 80's :)

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  • I don't recall ever seeing Lee do a double or single leg takedown. I wonder why. He was exposed to Judo, must have seen wrestling!
    – Waterman
    Nov 6 '20 at 16:16
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    I've read that he was influenced by a Taekwondo practitioner Jhoon Goo Rhee, but I haven't really seen much to back that up. He could've just as easily gotten his style of kicking from other martial arts like kickboxing, savate, karate, etc. Also he does do a hammy double leg takedown in Way of the Dragon in the fight between two karate masters and his coworkers.
    – BatWannaBe
    Nov 24 '20 at 17:04
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    @BatWannaBe: agree there's TKD influence on kicking (e.g. in the gliding side thrusting kick he was fond of), and some Hapkido influence too. Filipino martial arts was another influence - Dan Inosanto being a famous student & training partner.
    – Tony D
    Dec 8 '20 at 15:38
  • @BatWannaBe Good call on Hapkido influence! My sense is that Lee must have studied longboxing as a kid, which wouldn't have been uncommon, based on his kicking stances, but discarded the more exotic movements and punching. (I think that's why so many of his kicking looks more like karate or even traditional shaolin.)
    – DukeZhou
    Dec 15 '20 at 2:34

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