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  • How does Bruce Lee's physical attributes (speed, strength, etc) rate among the standards of classical martial artists (especially amateur practitioners)? (Also bonus, how does he compare to pro athletes esp. bodybuilders?)

Self Defense/How does Bruce Lee's physical attributes (speed, strength, etc) rate among the standards of classical martial artists (especially amateur practitioners)? (Also bonus, how does he compare to pro athletes esp. bodybuilders?)


QUESTION: In your article about realistic western fighting vs flowery philosophical Asian martial arts, you already commented your opinion about Bruce Lee's superficial understanding about Wing Chun and the martial arts in general and his skills are so damn amateurish compared to actual properly trained classically trained fighters from the region.

But I am curious about his stats? I mean in your facebook commentary (where I read your article) one of your online buddies made this comment.

Indeed even among haters in the West who believe true pros like Mike Tyson and Randy Couture would blitz him in seconds in a UFC style match, I always see universal phrase for his physical conditioning and stats; at the very least absolute haters state he would "wreck everyone participating in a website discussion about him including the more athletic members of the site said discussion is occurring in" as the words of one hater who seriously calls him overrated.

I cannot tell you how any  (even pro fighters who rank moderate to top tier in the West) phrase his speed and physical strength as phenomenal for an amateur and at least comparable to low-ranking bottom tier professionals.

Don't get me started how camera experts state his speed is so incredible to have been to fast that he was faster than what the camera could record (even when he slowed down, it was still a blur one professional cameraman stated) and how strength athletes including some bodybuilders and strongman stated he was FUCKING STRONG for his size and body proportion, so strong that he can give a run for his money in an amateur strength contest. Not even going into bodybuilding where I seen fans state his muscles are fucking so impressive of a human sculpture that he would win any bodybuilding tournament within his weight class.

I can bring up so many experts who phrase his abilities as stated in docs, books, and TV. Several "certified" kinesiologists, physicists, neurologists, and sports doctor and physical therapist constantly throw out how FUCKING impressive his strength, speed, bodily movements, and muscular abs are.

However I have to ask how do old school martial arts school in mainland Asia view him in terms of his physical attributes?  I mean based on your article, is Bruce Lee just average in speed and other stats (or even worse than mediocre) within classical MA standards?

I also have to ask about his physical prowess compared to other actual competitive (esp. high tier) nonfighting sports standards?

I mean all the strength athletes, bodybuilders, and other competing participants in other sports who phrase his incredible physique, speed, strength, etc are ALL amateurs and low tier (assuming if they even compete at all).

I have yet to see legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger or even recent champions such as Matthias Steiner phrase Lee in his physical attributes.

Its only in the Western martial arts world (including the MMA world) where even skilled pros (including some top dogs who won belts in UFC, boxing, and kickboxing) who undeniably phrase Lee's speed and strength etc..... And even they often point out "he's fast,strong, and so forte for an AMATEUR"!

I am curious would he even cut pass low tier competitive amateur in the standards of classical MA? Or is he impressive even among practitioners who mainly farm, work in an office job, go to school (in other words people who only practise the old school style every weekend) for his physical abilities? But assuming that he's top tier in amateur standards in classical Asian styles, would he still quickly wash out among professional standards in mainland Asia?

How would you personally rate Bruce Lee's speed, strength, reflexes, muscular body build (bodybuilding criterias lol), and whatever other important physical traits needed for fighting? Are you impressed considering his primary profession as an actor? Or is he just BS in your opinion even in the physical athletic gifts he's gifted with as much as his "expertise" on martial arts and Chinese philosophy?

ANSWER: There is so much bullshit written about Bruce Lee that you might as well be talking about Jesus H. Christ. And in fact, many western martial artists have turned him into a religion.

One thing that pretty much anyone and everyone can agree on is he was lightening quick. But that's really a matter of physiology. The man had a great set of fast twitch muscle fibers. So mother nature granted him a boon that he developed through training and practice.

But does that make him a demi-god? No.

He was a man. An obsessive one at that. On the plus side he was damned good at his version of martial arts. On the down side, he was kicked out by two grand masters in my lineage (Yip Man/Wing Chun and Ark Wong/Five Family). Was he willing to fight? Well that depends on who you ask. His challenges are legendary, but childhood friends tell a very different story. (Not that he didn't fight, but there was a degree of ...selectiveness his fights.) Yes he trained both celebrities and future full contact fighters/champions -- but that's a sports context. Which is not say it isn't legitimate, but it's a sport. A safe environment with referees, rules and limits. So it's a very structured and control context. Straight up, most men stop 'fighting' with other men in their late teens early 20s. Past that it becomes a different form of violence. So the obsession with 'fighting' makes you go "Hmmmmm."

As for where the sport has progressed since his death, hell yes it's advanced. It's literally become a science. But at the same time, just because it's advanced that far doesn't mean the people doing it are scientists. They're benefiting from the application of science and development to the field. At the time, Lee was laying the foundation of that development. But that doesn't mean he'd be able to succeed against the top folks trained in what he helped develop. On the other hand, it can be argued he'd do fine against many in the field.

But see all of that overlooks a key element. It's not about Bruce Lee or any other name.

It's about what you can do.

See a lot of folks who are pretty fuckin' mediocre boost their self-image through reflected glory.  It's not that they're actually hot shit, it's that they claim that by studying a hot shit guru's system they ARE hot shit.  That they follow a hot shit instructor they become hot shit. ANY challenge (real or perceived) to their guru is going to be met with serious monkey brained screech-fests. (This is the source of so many of the internet flame wars over who was more awesome.)

So who cares what Bruce Lee could do. What matters is what you can do. If his works help you, great. If they don't, don't worry about them.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: You inspired me to ask a hell of a lot more question! But I will ask them another time because I am on lunch break.

Right now I'll ask specifically pertaining to this question.

I am curious about the claims of Bruce's physical strength. THe common hearsay is the Bruce Lee is so strong that despite being 150 lbs, he can lift someone almost 3X his own weight.

In addition I am quite curious. You mentioned that everyone can safely agree he was lightning fast. So I already take it he'd probably beat all amateurs period in a sports context even in mainland Asia. But how does he fare against he classical martial artists who do the stuff for a living (Shaolin monks, Yipman school of Wing Chun, etc)?  I mean in yur article yous tated that Bruce Lee would come off as mediocre in classical  standards but you're also blatantly phrasing his speed here. Because the speed thing is one of the areas that Bruce Lee gets so phrased for and one of the "proofs" he did impacting the human world records by pushing human speed to the limits. So in classical martial arts, where even journeyman properly trained professional (or even semi-pros) already as fast as Bruce Lee was?

How strong does he hit? I seen traditional martial artists who practise "OMG hardcore styles" such as Kyokushin bash his striking powers as weak  in their styles standards. For example many Kyokushin folks often go around saying "Bruce Lee had the strength of a pussy!" pointing out that Mas Oyama not only killed bulls with single strikes but he even BROKE their horns off while alive.

I'm saving some more details for another question but the last paragraph should be a foreshadowing of one of the questions I will ask this week.

Again, you're repeating myth and legend.

The human body can only generate so much power- and then, only under very specialized conditions.

For example, you can take the strongest man on the planet, put him into space, and without the earth to push off of, his strength is meaningless. Powerlifting is a very specific set of techniques to align the body a certain way and move weight in certain directions. While the muscle fiber is important, what is far, far more important is perfect structural alignment -- otherwise shit blows out. (Of the 10s of powerlifters you see competing you don't see the 1,000s who have dropped out because of injury or their bodies can't take it.)

Speed and strength are the two thing many people use to 'patch' their flawed martial mechanics.  The first lines of this page  (  )give you this about patching:

"Patching is basically taking a flawed and incomplete technique and plugging something in to make it work for YOU. The problem with this idea is that many 'patches' are specific to an individual (e.g. size, strength and speed). What this means is that although the technique is technically flawed, the person is able to make it 'work' by adding in this element. "

Yes, Bruce Lee was fast. Yes he was in great shape -- which often includes strength. But that's where things start getting complicated.

F = m x v

Force = mass x velocity, it's the law.

You can't beat this equation. You can jigggle it around to pump it up. But far more common, is you can screw it up. Let's stick how to jiggle it.  

Let's say -- and this is a big ass assumption -- two people can hit correctly. In an ideal world that means all their body weight can be put into a punch that's going 20 mph.

150 (mass) x 20 mph = 3000. Wow that's a lot. Right? But what if the other guy weighs 250

250 (mass) x 20 mph = 5000.  Oh, same speed, same mechanics and the bigger mass has more power.

In order to generate the same force, the little guy would have to increase his speed to 33 mph

150 x 33.3 = 5000 (approximately)

Now that's how you jiggle the equation. But, it's also very much a perfect world.

Is it possible for Lee to have generated a lot of force from his small frame? (It's reported his heaviest was 160.) Yes. That is where his speed came in. It allowed him to deliver his bodyweight at a higher velocity.

BUT, no matter how fast he was, he can only move SO fast. There's a top limit to how fast anyone can move. That means his 150 (average weight) could only generate so much force -- that's IT! Myth and legend meets up with laws of physics.

And in those laws of physics, it doesn't matter how strong he was. Add to that without correct structure, strength doesn't matter either. Not even a power lifter can walk up and pick up 500 pounds in just any old way. Do it right or else.

Now, F = m x v in a perfect world is truly impressive. However, there are LOTS of ways to screw it up. In fact, physicists will tell you it is POTENTIAL force. There are all kinds of wibbly wobbly variables and factors. Things that will take 250 x 20 and add in -1000 -2000 -300 -200 -400 = 1100.

This is why most people can't hit for shit. These mistakes, misalignments, bad timing, etc., subtract (that's why F= m x v is potential.) But again look at the difference between a big guy and a little guy. (For the sake of example we'll cut the small guy's losses in half otherwise we go into the negatives.)

150 x 20 -500 -1000 -150 -100 -200 = 1050.  Yeah, that's way, way less effective.

But look at something important, even with the little guy screwing up less than the big guy (we halved his mistakes) the big guy still hits harder because of mass alone. But here we are again at jiggling. IF -- and that's a damned big if -- the little guy makes fewer mistakes he can hit harder than the big guy. Take away any one of those halved mistakes in the above equation, and the little guy will hit harder. OR let the little guy make the exact same mistakes as the big guy, but increase the little guy's speed to 35 and he will still hit harder. (150 x 35 -1000 -2000 -300 -200 -400 =1350 )

Consider this, by in large, who hits harder is the guy who is making fewer mistakes. Not who is stronger or faster.

Myths of Bruce Lee's 'strength' really aren't about his muscles. He was hitting so hard because of his speed and being able to align his body. In a very real sense it wasn't strength, it was not making the mistakes of bad body alignment (all those minuses in the equation).

Now here's something else to consider. It's VERY easy to get perfect body alignment when you're doing a demonstration or teaching. YOU ARE IN CONTROL. That control isn't there in a fur ball or even a sparring/sports match. Doing perfect body mechanics against someone who is just as good as you is really, really hard.

So all the folks going on about this and that regarding the legend of Bruce Lee are going overboard. It's the same difference as a powerlifter walking up in a competition and doing a clean and jerk of 600 pounds (controlled conditions) vs trying pick up that same 600 pounds as he's running by.  

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Marc MacYoung


Street self-defense, crime avoidance and personal safety


I grew up in the streets of Los Angeles in 'situational poverty.' I have dealt with criminals and violent people all my life -- both personally and professionally. I have written 15 books and 6 videos on surviving street violence. I was originally published under the name Marc Animal MacYoung. (Animal was my street name). I've taught police and military both internationally and within the US. I've lectured at universities, academies and done countless TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews. I'm a professional speaker on crime avoidance and personal safety. And I am an expert witness recognized by the US court system. My bio is at My abridged CV (Curriculum Vitae) is at

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