Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is back with a vengeance.

My once good friend in life, fellow sparring partner and martial arts legend has returned to the cultural scenery through the 2008-9 openings of a 40-episode biopic miniseries, a Broadway show, a remake of “Enter the Dragon,” and the creation of a theme park. And news about these events is once again stirring the pot of inquiry and controversy about him, like before his sudden and unfortunate 1973 death at the young age of 32.

“The Legend of Bruce Lee,” which is being filmed in China, Hong Kong and the U.S. and contains an international cast, is poised to deliver a fitting veneration to the kung fu king of screen. This television biography might contain fictionalized episodes, but it will resurrect Bruce’s personhood and talents before a whole new generation. It stars Chan Kwok-kwan, who has an uncanny resemblance to Lee, but whose greatest challenge remains to convince the viewing audience of his mastery of martial arts with only a dancing background.

Equally entertaining will be the Warner Bros. remake of the 1973 classic, “Enter the Dragon.” The new film will be titled, “Awaken the Dragon.” It will loosely follow the original, which tracks an FBI agent who investigates a Shaolin Monk and underground kung-fu fighting clubs. Still unanswered, however, is “Who will (or can) play Lee’s character?”

I don’t imagine Bruce could have ever imagined himself on Broadway, but composer and Tony award-nominee David Yazbek is placing him front and center stage through his scores in an upcoming musical based upon Lee’s life.

And in southeast China there is even a $29 million theme park being erected in Bruce’s honor, which will include a martial arts academy and a memorial hall. And just in time with world’s spotlight on the Beijing Olympics.

The question of questions

With the mania over this iconoclastic giant, curiosity is once again knocking on even my doorstep. What was Bruce Lee like? How did you meet? What was it like to choreograph the fight scene in Rome with him? Did you spend much time together off screen? These are a small sampling of the inquiries I’m often asked wherever I go around the world.

However, the question probably most asked of me is: Do you think you could have beaten Bruce Lee in a professional competition?

Many have opined about the answer. Some even indicted what I haven’t said. For example, contrary to the Toronto Star’s recent report, I have not admitted that I “would be no match for Lee in a real fight.”

A genius and champion

The truth is Lee was a formidable opponent with a chiseled physique and technique. I totally enjoyed sparring and just spending time with him. He was as charismatic and friendly in the ring and at home, as he was on film. His confidence and wit were dazzling, and sometimes even debilitating to others. Saying things to others like, “A fight is not won by one punch or kick. Either learn to endure or hire a bodyguard.”

Lee was lightening fast, very agile and incredibly strong for his size. He was also a master marketer – a fact demonstrated by his ability to talk the world karate champion at the time (me) into being defeated on screen!

However, many today don’t realize he never competed professionally. If he had, I believe he would have been a world champion. Rather, his fame was crowned with the Green Hornet television series. He was then immortalized with such movies as “Enter the Dragon” and “Return of the Dragon,” in which Lee and I fought in the now famous fighting sequence inside the Roman Colosseum.

I enjoy speaking about my friendship with Bruce. It is something about which many don’t know. As I travel the world, it seems that younger people identify me merely with some of the folklore in the Chuck Norris Facts – those hyperbolic sayings that elevate my abilities beyond my capabilities. Others view me in light of the character I played in “Walker, Texas Ranger” or in one of my 20 tough-guy films. But, prior to my film and television career, not everyone realized that I was the six-time world champion back then. From 1964 to 1968, I won many state, national and international amateur karate titles. In 1968, I fought and won the World Professional MiddleWeight Karate championship by defeating the world’s top fighters. I then held that title until 1974, when I retired undefeated.

What I taught him – what he taught me

Bruce Lee learned from everybody. He had a very open mind. He never believed in only one martial arts style, or that one was superior. He believed that everything had strengths and weaknesses, and that we should find the strengths in each method. He worked out with me, as well as Joe Lewis and Mike Stone. He ascertained skills from all of us, as we learned also from him. And, in doing so, he added it to his repertoire of techniques, as we all did.

When I first started working out with Bruce, he only believed in kicking below the waist, from his training in Wing Chun. I encouraged him not to limit himself and at least develop the ability to kick high, whether he used it or not. I started to do my spinning heel kicks and hitting the pads. Then Bruce started doing it. In six months he could kick as well as anyone.

It’s strange to look back on those days. They seem so near, yet so far away. It’s difficult to believe that it has been 35 years since that martial arts legend left this earth. I miss my friend. I know many of you do too. I hope all the endeavors to memorialize his greatness are successful.

Penalty point for passivity?

Enough stalling! As in my new fighting federation, the World Combat League, which we are hoping will be seen in 100 countries during this second season, there are penalties for passivity.

So would I have beaten Bruce Lee in a real competition, or not? You’ll forgive me for answering with another Bruce-ism, “Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.”

(Chuck’s column now runs in syndication through Creators Syndicate. Subscriptions can be obtained by contacting Creators Syndicate. To check out some of his non-political articles, see Chuck’s WND archives.)

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