I recently started MMA and have been learning wrestling, jiu jitsu, boxing, and some Muay Thai. Very beginner.

In every Bruce Lee fight I've ever seen, he avoids opponents' blows by a combination of moving out of the way and lightly smacking their limb away with his hand. I realize these are film fights, but my understanding is that he's using his actual techniques nonetheless.

Which disciplines, if any, is this aspect taken from? Or did he just add it in himself?

  • 6
    Are we essentially talking about parries? Pretty sure nearly every striking martial art has the concept of a parry. Bruce Lee just made it look easy (cinema choreography helps there ;) ).
    – rjstreet
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 15:08
  • We might be! Sounds right. But I never saw it when I used to take karate, nor have I seen it in Muay Thai yet. Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 15:25
  • To be clear it is not as simple as just a parry, it's a pak sao as answered below.
    – Kristian82
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 13:32

4 Answers 4


The 'parry' Bruce Lee does is a pak sao (slapping hand). He incorporated this movement into his JKD and it originated from Wing Chun.

It's not so much a real parry but rather a controlling move towards the opponent's elbow. Bruce Lee's execution of this technique is very hard. It's normally combined with a simultaneous strike.

Of course, the real application is quite different from what you see in his movies but it's very effective as a controlling technique since it can be applied in many situations and is not for just one specific attack from your opponent.


he avoids opponents' blows by a combination of moving out of the way and lightly smacking their limb away with his hand

While the previous answers are totally correct in their statements about movie technique vs. real life, this observation actually strikes to the core of your understanding about the role of "blocks" in martial arts.

I'm going to approach this from a karate perspective, and I'm going to use three basic blocks as examples; soto uke, uchi uke and geidan barai.*

The first two mean respectively outside and inside block and are traditionally taught to block incoming punches. Personally I would never use them for that. Ditto for the third one which means groin or downward block and is traditionally taught to block incoming front kicks - to use this for that purpose is insane, you will end up breaking your ulna bone while smacking it against someone's fast moving shin bone.

So what's the point?
The point is that these are still valuable moves but they are not strictly for "blocking", rather they are for grappling and striking once you are correctly positioned to use them. Can you use them as blocks? Yes. Should you use them as blocks? Mostly no.

The real point is that you don't need traditional formalised "blocks" to deal with incoming techniques. Parrying or slapping away the approaching limb is a perfectly adequate defense provided you do something immediately afterwards - if you don't then you and the opponent are back to the start again.

For the sake of the movie Bruce Lee will dance around and parry away the first 10 or 20 attacks before doing something - in real life you will do something immediately after the parry; you will move in, change the angle, execute a strike or grapple. The parry is the setup for the next move.

*These example videos were selected simply because they were top of the search results, nothing more. Using them is not an endorsement of their quality or correctness.

  • Most blocks, when executed correctly, are effectively parries (there are exceptions like high blocks and cover ups [cant remember what this is technically called in boxing]). To the author's point, in most cases, intercepting a strike head on is a recipe for hurt (which is why they are generally taught as part of a sweeping motion).
    – rjstreet
    Commented Apr 28, 2013 at 13:51

As with any historical study, the individual elements need to be contextualised.

At its core, MA was essentially either defending or aquiring assets. The way to do so was with weapons rather than empty-handed. Parry study in MA likely have come from its weapon equivalent; Aikido being one of such arts.

So I think pretty much every MA that has its concepts readapted from weapon handling will incorporate empty-handed parry study on their curriculum. The remaining of arts that did not have their concepts readapted from weapon handling will also incorporate empty-handed parry study on their curriculum, one way or another, simply because other arts do.


Even BJJ makes use of parry: before fighting for position one needs to fight for a suitable grip, which is where parries come in.

  • 1
    My suspicion is that Bruce Lee most likely studied parries in wing chun, boxing, and karate (in order of his interest), and I don't believe any of those arts got their parries from weapons work. Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 14:25
  • @DaveLiepmann. I agree.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 18:57

This technique is one part parries and one part fight-scene choreography.

Parries are a basic element of boxing, many styles of karate, wing chun, and most striking arts in general. Bruce Lee studied each of these (wing chun most of all in his early career, and boxing close behind it as he explored other arts) and a given instance of Bruce Lee smacking away a strike could be a pak sao, a boxing parry, a karate parry, or just a parry without a particular style to pin it to.

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