A bio-mechanical evaluation of Bruce Lee One Inch Punch ブルースリーの寸勁をバイオメカニクスにて検証する (Part 1)
This is probably the first bio mechanical (scientific) evaluation of the martial art skills of Bruce Lee. Let me start this evaluation with the introduction of Bruce Lee. Even though he is well known there are a few things that most people ignore or do not know.
Bruce Lee (李小龍) is his acting name and his real name was Lee Jun-fan (李振藩). He was born in Chinatown of San Francisco on November 27, 1940 and died in Hong Kong on July 20, 1973 at the age of 32. In addition to being an actor, he claimed to be a martial arts expert and the founder of his style, Jeet Kune Do. He is widely considered by commentators, critics, media and other martial artists to be one of the most influential martial artists of all time, and a pop culture icon of the 20th century. He is often credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in American films.
The name of Bruce Lee is still very famous and popular not only among the kung fu movie buffs but also with the shotokan karate practitioners. It is amazing since Lee has died more than 40 years ago that many people still idolize him and say he was the greatest kung fu expert. I have decided to write this article as many of the shotokan practitioners believe that what they saw in the movies was the real ability of Bruce Lee. In this article I want to bring out the real ability of Lee. What I will attempt is to evaluate his real martial arts performance (meaning non-choreographed one) scientifically to give it a fair shake.
I am aware that what I am trying to do here is controversial and many Bruce Lee lovers or admirers will not be happy that I am questioning his martial arts expertise. I want to emphasize that the real objective of this article is not to bad mouth Bruce Lee but rather to give his real performance a fair evaluation. Before getting into the evaluation, I want to give him the due credit that he deserves. I consider his biggest contribution to the martial arts was the fact that he was the first Hollywood actor who introduced the Asian martial arts to the US public and ignited its popularity throughout the world by his kung fu movies (most of them were made in Hong Kong, however). There were other cheaply made Hong Kong kung fu movies before Bruce Lee but the actions were poorly choreographed and the dubbed English was so poor that it was almost comical. Lee was a good actor and he knew, with his experience in the film industry, how to excite the American audience. He worked with the Hong Kong director, Raymond Chow and they produced his first kung fu movie in 1971, the Big Boss. Then, he gained more popularity with the next film in 1972, Fists of Fury (also known as “The Chinese Connection”). Lee became almost an instant hit around the world with his kung fu movies. His fame grew with the succeeding movies with his unique fighting style and a peculiar long ki-ai which sounded like a cat or a bird’s scream, but the audience loved them. He died suddenly one year later in 1973. It was strange as he looked like the most fit person and was so young (only 32). There were many controversies and rumors of how he died but we will not go into that subject as it is not our main concern in this article.
Having said that, when it comes to his martial arts ability, that is another story. When we watch other super hero movies such as Superman, Spiderman, The Hulk, etc. we do not believe that the actors can actually fly or break through a wall. It is very strange that when it comes to a kung fu movie, we want to believe an actor can also be a martial art expert. It is true that some martial artists became movie actors such as Jet Li and even one of the JKA instructors, Tatsuya Naka (中達也) played a major role in the movie, Kuro Obi (right). But remember they were martial artists before they became actors. Let’s look at truly who he was. Bruce Lee was the son of a Cantonese opera star, Lee Hoi Chuen from Hong Kong. There, he was introduced to the film industry by his father and appeared in several films as a child actor. Lee held dual citizenship of Hong Kong and the United States. Lee was raised in Kowloon, a section of Hong Kong with his family until his late teens, then he moved to the United States in 1958 at the age of 18.
Now, I have to bring your attention to the myths Bruce Lee created. The myth I am referring to is that he was a kung fu expert. Many an audience loved the actions of Lee and they believed or I should say they wanted to believe those skills they saw in the films were real. What I am trying to do here in this article is to evaluate his true skill level and to prove that it was only a myth. Some of the readers may be offended and may say, “Why did you do this? It is like telling the children that Santa Claus is a fairly tale and he is a fake.” I agree that my action is unwarranted if the audience were only the movie or kung fu buffs. I am doing this for the senior karate practitioners who still idolize Lee. I want them to see the reality. I feel strongly that the senior karate practitioners must not mix up the true martial arts skills with the fabricated techniques that “looked real” for the movies.
One cannot evaluate his Martial Arts skills fully by his actions in his movies. These are choreographed and rehearsed just as the demonstrations done by the JKA masters such as Tanaka, Yahara and Asai. Evaluating his training photos can be evaluated but it is probably not convincing. What we need to do is to give a bio mechanical, scientific evaluation of his “real” actions. By “real” I mean they must be non rehearsed and also it must be shown in public.
In this photo you can see that Lee is standing sideways to his partner in white. This is a big telltale for a push instead of a punch. If he was going to do a real punch then he should be facing his partner straight forward.
Here is some proof that he was pushing his partner. See how much he leaned into his partner and his left foot is lifted. This clearly shows that he did not generate this punch (or push) from the hips. He must have pushed about 10 inches judging from the photos.
(Note: this photo may not be related to the first and third photos. I used this photo to show his punch most clearly.)
Here is the perfect prop to make his “punch” looking effective or powerful; a chair right behind the partner! Why? If there was no chair his partner may just take a few steps back instead of collapsing from the punch. With a chair so close to this guy he had no choice but to stumble and fall. If that was a real one inch punch with a full effect, the partner may take a few steps back but at the same time he would probably bend over from the pain in the chest.
You can see better how he punched in this video. After my explanation, now you should be able to detect that he was pushing instead of punching his partner.
The video here (3 min 29 sec) includes many of his feats such as his two finger push up, etc.
Go to 40 to 45 seconds into this section to see his “one inch punch”.
Let me explain what he did in this demonstration. I have to point out that he used another trick. Check his right hand in the photo here. You can clearly see that he is using an open hand in front of his partner’s chest. This gives you an impression that he was not going to use much power. However, it really means he had an additional 2 inches as he closed his hand to push. It is a clever trick but also, unfortunately, deceiving.
Take a look at Lee’s right hand in this photo. He opened it again after the punch (push?) but you could see that he used the fist to push his partner backward. Why did he open the hand? It was obviously used to make his push looking “soft” but yet powerful. I am sorry to say this but this may impress the amateurs but it certainly was a poor trick he used.
Case 3: Six inch punch.
In the above film, his six inch punch demonstration is also included but I will attach a different video clip here as it is easier to see how he did this punch.
This video shows his punch in slow motion so you can see how far he moves his upper body to push the guy. I would say he moved his upper body 2 or 3 feet to generate this punch. In this punch where you position your fist is irrelevant as he was using his upper body leaning motion.
Photo 3-1:The start is the same. He positioned himself sideways. You can see his partner leaning backward slightly though I do not know if he was doing this intentionally or unintentionally. With the center of the gravity being pushed back behind his heels it was easy to push him backward.
The prop is the same, the partner has a chair right behind him. One thing I need to mention is that the chair he had to sit slid backward many feet. If the chair had the rubber feet, it couldn’t have done this. I could be wrong but I am assuming Lee wanted to have this visual effect, simply to impress the audience. He was a movie actor but at the same time I heard that he was heavily involved in the choreography and visual effects of his actions. This is the reason why I suspect he purposely set this up. Just think, if you really wanted to show a one inch punch, why would you need a chair?
The last demonstration was his board breaking which he did on TV in Hong Kong. I will evaluate how he did this performance.
Case 4 Board breaking
As he had to break the board, Lee is standing in a straddle stance. This means he could lean his upper body instead of using only the hips.
Another photo (from another TV program in Asia) showing how he positioned himself to the board.
This is an after the break photo and I consider this as a proof that he leaned his upper body. Notice his punching arm is now bent. This proves that he leaned so much to break the board he bent his arm back as a reaction. If he had used only the hips to punch his arm should have been straight.
If the board is a soft wood anyone can break one or even two pieces with a push like this. Just try it and you can see how easy it is to break a board. But try to stand in a natural stance as you would in the Yoi position, then extend your arm and touch the board before you break the board. This way is much harder.
I conclude that his one inch punch was not a real one inch punch at all but was a one or six inch push with several props to make them look impressive. Once again, the intention of my evaluation was not to degrade him in any way. What I did in this report was to evaluate his martial art skill level from the bio mechanical method. Lee was a great movie actor and he should receive a but obviously not a martial art expert. He did what he could and tried to make it impressive. It was, indeed, impressive as one inch punch was almost unheard of in the 70’s particularly in the western world. If you are as old or young as I am, you remember that the Japanese karate (mainly Shotokan) was the main stream martial art in the USA. Lee brought something new and different so I give him a lot of credit for doing that. His well planned performances impressed the audience who were mostly not the martial art experts or amateurs. I do not know exactly why he did those performances. My guess is he needed to bring some credibility for his acting career. Being an Asian in Hollywood was (and probably still is) a handicap. He was probably struggling and was unable to get a main role in those years (60’s). The Long Beach demonstration was in 1964 and he was almost unknown then. He finally got a break when he captured a role in “Green Hornet” in 1966 (only for a year). It was a big role but he was a side kick (no pun intended), Kato and not the main role. I heard that he auditioned for the TV series “Kung fu” in 1971 and the management chose David Carradine (a Caucasian actor) to act as a mixed race (Chinese and American) Shaolin monk. This TV program became a big hit in 1972 and lasted till 1975. So, Lee had to go to Hong Kong instead of Hollywood to make himself known in the movie world. He tied up with Raymond Chow, the film producer of Golden Harvest and created “Fist of Fury” in 1972. Then his dream came true with Enter the Dragon, the first Chinese martial arts film to have been produced by a major Hollywood studio, Warner Brothers. The rest is history. Unfortunately, Lee never enjoyed the fame from this film fully as he died even before the film was released in 1973.
The true irony is his one inch punch demonstration. Though it may have given him some credibility in martial arts in the 60’s and helped his movie career. However, the recorded film of his demonstration is now widely available with the internet technology. Consequently, his martial art skills are being fully exposed and it would haunt his fame some fifty years later.
I did not explain or ellabrate on the real one inch punch in this report. I may not be an expert but I can do a one inch punch and it is available for you to see at KarateCoaching (www.karatecoaching.com). If you are interested visit this site and find many other interesting karate teaching videos there.