Bruce Lee Battle that He Lost!
The Bruce Lee Battle with Wong Jack Man has become the stuff of legends, it was a wildly famous battle. There are different opinions as to who won, and people can’t even agree on how many people were there, or who they were.
The Bruce Lee Battle with Wong Jack Man happened in 1964. It supposedly happened because Bruce was teaching Kung Fu to white people. A challenge was issued by the Chinese martial arts community, which probably meant Wong Jack Man by himself, or with the backing of a few friends.
There is controversy in the challenge itself, as Wong Jack Man was one of the first Kung Fu instructors in San Francisco to open his doors to white students.
So the two men met in a Kung fu school in Oakland in late winter of 1964. On one hand was Wong Jack Man, 5’ 10”, 135 pounds, an expert in Shaolin styles, and having experience in internal kung fu styles. On the other hand was Bruce Lee, 5’ 7”, 140 pounds, an expert in Wing Chun (Ving Tsun) Kung Fu as taught by the legendary Yip Man.
As the two men eyed each other, Bruce Lee made an interesting remark concerning a friend of Wong Jack Man’s who had helped to set up the affair. “You’ve been killed by your friend.”
Wong Jack Man remained silent, but undoubtedly he was thinking over the remark. After all, Bruce Lee Battles had taken place in Hong Kong, ‘roof top’ contests when he was a member of the street gang ‘Tigers of Junction Street.’ These were particularly vicious fights, and Bruce Lee had fought in these so called ‘death matches.’
Bruce Lee’s remark in his mind, the people in the school stepped back and cleared a space for the combatants. On Lee’s side of the room stood wife Linda Lee, and James Yimm Lee. On the other side of the room stood three people, one of which was named William Chen (not the William Chen who teaches Tai Chi Chuan in New York). This is an oddity as Linda Lee recalls 13 people being present, and Chen recalls 15 people being in attendance. The fact that there is so little recall on this simple fact bodes ill for recall on the Bruce Lee Battle itself.
The floor cleared, the two men bowed, and Wong Jack Man moved forward and extended his hand for the pre-fight handshake. Bruce leaped forward with a quick spear hand to the eyes.
Wong was surprised, but quickly settled into his classical Kung Fu mode of fighting. Bruce, for his part, assumed a Wing chun stance. Still, though the men were in stances, Bruce was the more aggressive. He continually rushed in, kicking to the groin or striking to the eyes.
Wong, remembering Bruce’s remark at the beginning of the fight, backpedaled. He was constantly blocking and parrying and trying to get away from the dangerous eye pokes.
For long minutes the fight continued, Bruce unable to finish it, and Wong unable to move off the defensive. At last, the fight ended.
Linda Lee claimed Wong was running, that the fight was turning into a farce.
Wong’s men are said to have tried to stop the fight, but were forestalled by James Lee, who told them to let the fight continue.
Bruce is supposed to have taken him to the floor where he pounded his head with his fist. This is not born out by other witnesses.
Wong states that he had Bruce‘s head under his arm on three separate occasions.
Linda Lee says the fight lasted three minutes. Other witnesses says it went for 20 minutes.
Wong’s people claim the fight never went to the ground, but ended when both men were exhausted and unable to continue.
Do you see the difficulty here? So few eyewitnesses, and yet there is wildly varying accounts from the two camps.
So, what is the truth.
While this may not make please the reader, this writer thinks that this particular Bruce Lee battle went to Wong Jack Man. There are several reasons for this.
First, Linda Lee makes contradictory statements concerning the fight. This indicates a problem with memory.
Second, there was a lot more agreement that the fight actually lasted 20 minutes.
Third, Wong Jack Man went to work the following day, and the only mark that he had been in a death match was a scratch under the eye, which he said he received in the opening spear hand from Bruce.
Fourth, it was Bruce who wanted the fight kept a secret, but it was Bruce who broke this agreement by talking about the fight within a couple of weeks in an interview. Why would he want it a secret, yet be compelled to blurt it out? There is a conflict here. Not sure what it was, how deep it went, but it is Bruce Lee who was conflicted, not Wong Jack Man, who has rarely spoken of the fight, nor of Bruce Lee.
Fifth, and this is the one that really speaks to me: Bruce changed his fighting style after the fight. After the fight he left the Wing Chun kung fu style and developed his Jeet Kune Do method. So why would a man change what works? Only if it didn’t work. The truth is this, people learn from their mistakes, and that education will cause change. If Bruce had won it wouldn’t have been a mistake, and there wouldn’t have been an impetus to change.
That said, I know people will disagree with this, and I am truly curious as to their thoughts concerning this fight and to my reasoning. Feel free to comment below.
At any rate, the Bruce Lee Battle of the century doesn’t look like it was a win for Bruce. In fact, it looks like Bruce Lee lost. At best, it might have been a draw, but that might be a good thing. After all, it gave the world the Jeet Kune Do of Bruce Lee, and that means the entire world of the martial arts has won.
This article has been about the Bruce Lee battle with Wong Jack Man.
If you want to know about the man who killed Kenpo Karate…click here.