Skip to Main Content

Bruce Lee: The Greatest Martial Artist of All Time

It is widely accepted by fighters and other people around the world that Bruce Lee was the most influential martial artist of all time. From his famous action movies to his unique martial art of Jeet Kune Do, the legend of Bruce Lee has held strong.

And while many may think Bruce Lee was little more than a Hollywood actor, his greatest achievements extended far beyond the big screen. He was also a wise philosopher saying many things regarding the sport of martial arts that people still recognize today.

Although he is seen as the most influential martial artist in history, one question remains that some try to argue regarding his abilities and skills in a real fighting situation:

Is Bruce Lee the greatest martial artist of all time?

You’ll quickly find more than just one or two people who think so.

Fighters Learned to Adapt by Watching Bruce Lee

Among his most famous quotes, Bruce Lee once said -

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Lee followed this mindset of adapting to surroundings throughout his entire life and has since impacted millions who try to follow his example. 

UFC President Dana White once said that Bruce Lee was "the father of mixed martial arts."
He also referenced that if you ask any fighter out there who their inspiration was for joining the sport, pretty much everyone will list Bruce Lee among their idols.

Former UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis agreed saying he’s the reason why most guys become a part of martial arts.

Over the years, Bruce Lee learned many styles of fighting such as boxing, fencing, and the art of Wing Chun, which he studied under the direction of Ip Man. He incorporated these and other forms into his own martial art that he called Jeet Kune Do (JKD), which directly translates to “the way of the intercepting fist” in Cantonese.

Bruce Lee mural on NY Martial Arts Academy location in Brooklyn.

Even Randy Couture, a UFC Champion, said a huge part of his wrestling techniques came from Jeet Kune Do.

The concept of JKD was that no one style of martial arts had all the answers. Similar to his quote about water, the point was to always be adapting your fighting to the situations around you.

Former UFC Champion Anderson Silva said he changed many of his fighting techniques to make them “similar to Bruce Lee”. This mindset and his own training helped Silva remain champion for 2,457 days, the longest title reign in UFC history.

In an interview, boxing Hall of Famer Mike Tyson once talked about a key aspect of Bruce Lee’s fighting style being the increased ability to avoid taking hits. A major part of Jeet Kune Do is to “do as much damage as you can and then get out.”

Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter, has previously talked about how he was determined to be the greatest at everything he did. He was always trying to find the best and most efficient way to do martial arts and express himself. She said he was always asking himself questions like:

  • “What is the best type of footwork?”
  • “What is the best way to bridge the gap?”
  • “What is the best way to effectively strike?”

He would then adjust his style to fit the answer to each of these questions.

Bruce Lee Called the Greatest of All Time by World Champions & Beyond

Pro Boxer Manny Pacquiao says Bruce Lee is his idol, saying he tries to copy his hair and other looks. But more than that, Pacquiao also said he changed many of his fighting techniques into Lee’s style because he felt it would help him become a champion. Which he did — 12 times.

The actor and mixed martial artist Chuck Norris famously fought Bruce Lee on the big screen in their movie The Way of the Dragon. In the audio commentary on the DVD, Jon Benn who played the movie’s mob boss asked Norris who would win in a real-life fight. Norris responded almost immediately saying, “Bruce of course. Nobody can beat him."

This opinion by Chuck Norris has been shared by hundreds of professional fighters both before and after.

In an interview with UFC Champion Connor McGregor, he once said he had no doubt that Bruce Lee would have been World Champion in MMA if he’d had the chance.

Hong Kong statue of Bruce Lee the Greatest Martial Artist of All Time.

Some naysayers argue comments like these, claiming Lee only ever fought in movies, which were fake depictions of these battles. But Joe Rogan joined the ranks of people who say Bruce Lee is the greatest martial artist of all time, even when it comes to recognizing the moves he used in these movie scenes.

Mentioning things like his oblique kicks and his counters to block incoming attacks, Rogan once referenced on his talk show how Bruce Lee’s style was more realistic than any moves you see in martial arts movies today.

Bruce Lee is the Greatest

Even with all the nonbelievers out there, Bruce Lee continues to be seen by the masses as the greatest martial artist of all time. He was referred to by Dana White as a “world-wide fighting icon” not only because of martial arts but because of his philosophies, movies, teaching ability, and more.

It’s easy to agree with boxing Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard who said, “In the dictionary, you say ‘Greatest’, you say ‘Bruce Lee’. That’s the way it is. He is second to no one.”

Learn more about Jeet Kune Do here!

Using Jeet Kune Do Footwork to Avoid Getting Punched

The art of Jeet Kune Do created by Bruce Lee integrates all facets of combat. Various styles are borrowed from boxing, fencing, and other types of fighting. But one of the things that makes it truly unique is Jeet Kune Do footwork. If you...

The 5 Most Effective Types of Takedown Defense

If you want to achieve success as a martial artist, you need to improve your takedown defense as a way to avoid being brought to the ground during a fight. When mixed martial arts (MMA) first started, skilled grapplers won many of the first...

Helpful Head Movement Drills for Self Defense

There’s a saying in the martial world that says, “Either you move your head or he’s gonna move it for you.” Effective head movement is used to avoid oncoming attacks and also to set up strong counter moves. It can...

Why Martial Arts Is More Than Just Kicking

  Martial arts was initially seen as combative and puzzling. It was mostly learned and practiced by adults and was chiefly about self-defense. Martial arts has ever since grown from that stage of tiny dirty schools to schools teaching...

Fencing without a foil?

Bruce Lee often called his art of Jeet Kune Do, fencing without a foil.  In this entry we will be discussing what he meant by that statement.   If you take a look at fencing and Jeet Kune Do, you will not a few similarities.  One of...

Finding a Little Bruce Lee in All of Us

A slew of Bruce Lee types, embracing both men and women, could soon be making their way through the streets of New York--but with an added physical dimension; expertise in rough, tough and often savage street fighting.  In brief, those bad...

Doing Your Own JKD Thing

By Cass Magda   JKD has its own identity and follows a design with a purpose. It is a system. A JKD man's movement is definitely different and distinguishable from other martial arts such as Thai kickboxing, wing chun, or karate. The physical...

Getting To The Roots of JKD

By Cass Magda   In the Tao of JKD Bruce Lee said, "I hope that martial artists are more interested in the root of martial arts and not the different decorative branches, flowers or leaves. It is futile to argue as to which single...

Jeet Kune Do: The Way of The "Stopping Fist"

Jeet Kune Do is training and discipline toward the ultimate reality in combat. The ultimate reality is returning to one's primary freedom, which is simple, direct, and nonclassical.  A good Jeet Kune Do man does not oppose force or give way...

Jeet Kune Do's Five Ways Of Attack

1. SDA (Single Direct Attack) A direct attack is composed of a single movement. The objective is to go to the target by the most direct route. Although it is the simplest of the attacks, it is the hardest to complete successfully because the...