Martial arts is bullshit. That is what a young Chinese-American named Lee Jun-Fan began to realize soon after moving to the US from his native Hong Kong in 1959. He had been trained in classical Chinese martial arts by the legendary Wing Chun master Ip Man. He was considered a prodigy by his teachers. As well as those fortunate enough to see him fight, and those foolish enough to challenge him. When he moved to the US at the age of 18, he immediately began pressure testing his knowledge against any other martial art system he could find.
In contrast to the strict classical discipline and cultural constraints of Chinese Kung Fu, the US offered unfettered access and eager opportunity for comparative study. He could explore western Boxing, Wrestling, and Fencing; Japanese Karate, Judo, and Aikido; Taekwondo, Muay Thai, and other exotic martial arts that were being shared openly in America. He would come to a profound conclusion. One that would revolutionize martial arts and introduce him to the world as Bruce Lee. Martial arts is bullshit!
The Tao of Bullshit Martial Arts: The Way of the Material
There are 3 fundamental components to any instructional model.
- Material – what is being taught.
- Teacher – who is teaching.
- Student – who is being taught.
If the result is bullshit, we must conclude that the bullshit is a combination of these factors.
The first thing that Bruce Lee realized was that there was a fundamental flaw with the source material. It was not practical. He had come from a definitive culture of martial arts. The practice of Kung Fu was defined by strict draconian rules of instruction and application.
- The teacher MUST teach in a certain way.
- The student MUST learn in a certain way.
- The material is absolute and MUST be taught, learned, and applied in a certain way.
Any deviation from these orthodox traditions was tantamount to blasphemy. Martial arts was a religion, a cult; a system of dogmatic practices and principles set in stone.
Isolation, Secrecy, Buddha, and Bullshit…
This methodology was derived from a long history of deliberate cultural isolation and trade secrecy. Outside influences were prohibited. And an underlying Buddhist philosophy that held the practice of martial arts primarily as a path to enlightenment and self-betterment rather than exclusively a tool of warfare.
In China and in many other cultures around the world, the purpose of practicing martial arts was primarily to preserve tradition and to improve and enhance the mind, body, and soul. Many of the combative applications were eroded, forgotten, or removed over time to the point were most modern martial arts in their “pure” forms were collections of fossilized bullshit. They were relics of the past and were not suited for modern real-world applications.
Bullshit Martial Arts – All Form, No Function…
Bruce Lee came to the conclusion that traditional martial arts were inferior and ineffective. They had remained in isolation and in a state of evolutionary stagnation. Most of the training in classical Chinese martial arts, for example, involved doing useless exercises and practicing impractical forms or katas simply because it was the traditional methodology.
The student lacked the courage to ask “why,” and the teacher lacked the freedom to interpret and innovate. Both were trapped within the confines of a “style,” becoming slaves to a system, and zombified by the material. Students were not learning how to fight. They were not learning how to create. Instead, they were learning how to mimic movements. How to fixate on forms that were not easily understood nor translatable and transferable into practical applications. It was all form and no function; all style and no substance.
Intercepting the Bullshit…
So Bruce Lee decided to do what all innovative geniuses do – he changed the source material. He began looking at martial arts in a holistic way, without the limitations of traditional systems and styles. He looked purely at what worked and what did not. Bruce Lee took what was useful and threw away what was useless. He created, not necessarily a new martial art, but more profoundly, a new philosophy of martial arts.
Bruce Lee developed Jeet Kune Do as a platform to explore the revolutionary principles he was developing with his new martial art philosophy. Most importantly, he saw martial arts as first and foremost a science of combat and sought to define and refine this important principle. The primary purpose of martial arts was not to find enlightenment or to obtain inner peace. Those may be attained by consequence of one’s practice. Martial arts was for combat. Without that singular defining purpose, martial arts was bullshit.
Be like Water… Not Bullshit
Bruce Lee used his classical Chinese martial arts background in Wing Chun as his core and started enhancing it with principles from other martial arts. He replaced the traditional rigid stances of Chinese Kung Fu with the dynamic footwork of western Boxing. Integrated ground fighting principles from Wrestling and Judo. Introduced throws and locks from Aikido, and weapon-based principles from Fencing and Filipino martial arts.
He implemented fitness and diet regiments that would compliment martial arts training. He made open sparing compulsory so principles could be freely and fully tested. Bruce Lee created the blueprint and laid the foundation for modern mixed martial arts. It was this renaissance in martial arts philosophy that some believe made him a target of sinister forces who saw him as a threat to their orthodox traditions. But it was too late. By the time they silenced him, he had already called bullshit on the bullshitters. Bruce Lee left a legacy that would change the world.
Fight the Bullshit…
Bruce Lee’s greatest legacy was his questioning and challenging of the orthodoxy of martial arts. He broke through the traditional barriers and veils of secrecy and seclusion. He exposed the myths and realities of martial arts, and then he shared what he found with the world.
Bruce Lee believed that martial arts was for fighting and if it wasn’t then it was bullshit. He believed that martial arts was for everyone, and if it could only be taught to one group of people then it was bullshit. He believed that martial arts must be practical and useful, and if it wasn’t it was bullshit. If it worked in the dojo and not in the ring, it was bullshit. But most importantly, if it worked in the ring but not in the street, it was the worst type of bullshit.
The Brown Belt of Bullshit Martial Arts
The bullshit that Bruce Lee exposed in classical Chinese martial arts is present in almost all martial arts: the cult-like orthodoxy, the stagnant development and lack of innovation, the fascination with form over function, the reliance on theory rather than reality. But the material is only one-third of the equation. It must be taught, and it must be learned.
Immediately after his death, the golden era of bullshit martial arts began and ironically, the bullshit boom was ignited by the growing popularity in martial arts that was inspired by the life and legacy of Bruce Lee. There was the rise of the McDojos in the 70’s and 80’s, and an army of imitators and impersonators in movies, on television, and in every facet of pop culture, all trying to cash in on the martial arts craze. Bruce Lee, in his quest for the truth about martial arts, brought martial arts to the world.
Bullshit Martial Arts – Don’t drink the Kool-Aid…
In 2018, bullshit martial arts is big business, fed by the growth and popularity of mixed martial arts, the sport inspired by the practice and philosophy of Bruce Lee. The bullshitters are everywhere. There are ten thousand styles and systems and a hundred thousand Masters. Anyone with a few seminar certificates, a couple of notable selfies, and a YouTube channel can claim to be a master of some classical, hybrid, or improvised system.
In this modern era of social media, everyone wants to be Bruce Lee and re-invent the wheel; an over-stimulated bunch of over-engineers over-indulging their own over-estimated egos. They trade in fancy flashy techniques and regurgitated interpretations, teach with white-boards, and don’t believe in footwork. They are left ignorant of the higher principles and philosophies that transcend all martial arts. To understand the prevalence of bullshit in martial arts we must therefore examine the bullshit artists.
If you liked this piece, please check out my articles on the history of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, the love affair between America and Donald Trump, the life and legacy of Stan Lee, and the history of Reggae music! Check back weekly for new pieces, and don’t forget to “like” “share” and “follow us” on social media!