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Friday, July 31, 2009

We Miss You, Bruce

An unforgivably huge hunk of time has elapsed since the last posting. This time I've made up my mind--promise--that it won't happen again. There's simply too much happening around us, especially since Obama's inauguration, to remain mute.

So many, many things to talk about. The passing of the very controversial but undisputed Pop King, Michael Jackson. The world economic meltdown and the melting of polar ice caps. North Korea's nuclear saber-rattling, Iran's rigged election & its own nuclear jitterbug that's got bully boy Israel fuming and flexing. The burning issue of superpower U.S.A.'s miserable neglect of tens of millions of its citizens, leaving them endangered by a broken-down medical system that strips their children of adequate health care.

The list flows on and on.

Whatya say we just kick start it with a grand salute to a cultural icon. But not just any icon. Raise your glasses to someone that had, nor will ever have any equal, ever, in the explosive world of martial arts.

It was 36 summers ago, on July 20, that the world was shocked by the death of the phenomenal "Little Dragon," Bruce Lee. Rumors ran amok over why this 32 year-old man in amazing physical condition would suddenly perish. Some wildly conjectured it was a mystical "death punch" by an ninja assassin that caused Lee's acute cerebral edema, a fatal swelling of the brain. He was showing the world "too much," went the argument, so the old masters decided he had to go.

The notion fit just like a script from a Hong Kong karate movie. It was far more engaging than autopsy results pointing to a lethal adverse reaction Lee had after taking the prescription pain killing drug Equagesic. Of course, mystery clouds thickened when they also discovered trace amounts of, yep, cannabis in Lee's system. Sure, we all remember the recent hoopla of the photo of Olympic star Michael Phelps taking a bong hit. And anyone who's ever seen "Pumping Iron" will probably recall the scene of Mr. Universe--and California's current governor--Arnold Schwarzenegger toking away on that joint.

But Martial Arts Master Bruce Lee--a reefer fiend?? Come on.....

This was someone that Time Magazine crowned as "one of the 100 Most Important People of the Century, as one of the greatest heroes & icons, as an example of personal improvement through, in part, physical fitness, and among the most influential martial artists of the twentieth century."

Lee's Jeet Kune Do art of fighting was based on what he termed "the style of no style." He was convinced that traditional martial arts had been too rigid and formalistic to neutralize a skilled street fighter. Lee's system, thus, emphasized "practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency."

His workout regime to prove the point was set to maximum, and beyond. According to one source:

"Lee would do bicep curls at a weight of 70-to-80 lbs for three sets of eight repetitions, along with squats, push-ups, reverse curls, concentration curls, French presses, and both wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. He trained from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., including stomach, flexibility, and running, and from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. he would weight train and cycle. A typical exercise for Lee would be to run a distance of two to six miles in 15-to-45 minutes, in which he would vary speed in 3–5 minute intervals. Lee would ride the equivalent of 10 miles in 45 minutes on a stationary bike.

"Lee would sometimes exercise with the jump rope and put in 800 jumps after cycling. Lee would also do exercises to toughen the skin on his fists, including thrusting his hands into buckets of harsh rocks and gravel. He would do over 500 repetitions of this on a given day...."

Where his ganja breaks fit into this unbelievably grueling schedule is unknown. But there's absolutely no questioning the tangible results of his training, from his lightning-fast speed (where cameras had to be slowed down to get more than a blur in a scene), to the famed "one-inch punch" that could send someone hurling backwards, to those amazing high-flying kicks.

Just how many of the reported Lee exploits were out-and-out facts, and which of them may have been frosted with embellishment, is a continuing debate. According to biographer John Little, author of "Bruce Lee: The Art of Expressing the Human Body," the list of feats includes:

* Lee's striking speed from three feet with his hands down by his side reached five hundredths of a second.

* His combat movements were at times too fast to be captured on film for clear slow motion replay using the traditional 24 frames per second of that era, so many scenes were shot in 32 frames per second for better clarity.

* In a speed demonstration, Lee could snatch a dime off a person's open palm before they could close it, and leave a penny behind.

* Lee would hold an elevated v-sit position for 30 minutes or longer.

* He could throw grains of rice up into the air and then catch them in mid-flight using chopsticks.

* He could thrust his fingers through unopened cans of Coca-Cola. (This was when soft drinks cans were made of steel much thicker than today's aluminium cans).

* Lee performed one-hand push-ups using only the thumb and index finger.

* He performed 50 reps of one-arm chin-ups.

* He could break wooden boards 6 inches (15 cm) thick.

* Lee could cause a 200-lb (90.72 kg) bag to fly towards and thump the ceiling with a sidekick.

* He performed a sidekick while training with James Coburn and broke a 150 lb punching bag.

* In a move that has been dubbed "Dragon Flag", Lee could perform leg lifts with only his shoulder blades resting on the edge of a bench and suspend his legs and torso horizontal midair.

Beyond any doubt was the reality of the Little Dragon's mesmerizing power and agility. This was guy you wouldn't want to antagonize; some foolhardy extras on a few of Lee's martial arts movie sets wanted instant fame, so they provoked Lee into fights in hopes of getting the best of the movie star.

This clip amply demonstrates just how foolish--and dangerous--that would prove.

The quintessential Ultimate Fighter.

Bruce Lee was more, however. His reflections on the actual philosophy underlying fighting stressed the principle of "fluid form."

"Be formless...shapeless, like water," he remarked, "If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend..."

Thirty-six years have now passed.

But the world continues to celebrate his gift, which one film critic called "poetry in motion." Nothing better displays this than that greatest martial arts film of them all, "Enter The Dragon." Like most fans, I've probably watched it 25 times or more since it was released the year of his tragic death.

Enjoy this spectacular scene from the film. Experience not just Bruce Lee's poetry in motion but the prima facie evidence of a veritable legend.

We miss you, Bruce.

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