12 May 2010

Baddest Motherfuckers Ever #14- Bruce "I Dare You to Enter the Dragon, Motherfucker" Lee

Yet another Baddest Motherfuckers entry about a non-strength athlete!? Horrors! Not so, my friend.  Bruce Lee was the motherfucking man, and there's something to be learned from his training. The  Bulgarians have maintained for years that form follows function, and it's a philosophy with which both Bruce Lee and myself agree. Bruce Lee trained for strength and power, from which he believed both speed and form would follow, and guess what? The motherfucker was correct.

"The impressive physique that Lee developed was a byproduct, or effect, of his primary concern. Leaping eight feet in the air to kick out a light bulb (as he did in the movies Marlowe and The Way of the Dragon) or landing a punch that was initiated from three feet away in five-hundredths of a second, were attributes of power and speed respectively, that Bruce Lee had worked long and hard in the diligent training of his body to obtain. The fact that he created an extraordinary suit of muscles as well was nice, but was never the primary objective behind his training."(Art of Expressing the Human Body, 21)

Still unconvinced? Dr. Michael Yessis, Professor Emeritus at California State University Fullerton is considered to be the foremost expert on Russian weightlifting, and has stated that "world class weightlifters can out-do world class sprinters for the first 5-10 meters. Also, some had better absolute verticals but especially in relation to their size as for example Alexeyev. This does not apply to all weightlifters, only the better ones" (http://www.elitetrack.com/forums/viewthread/7841/), although this information is in dispute due to a lack of citation to back it. Based on his position as clinical advisor to the American Running Association and his close relationship with Yuri Verkhoshansky, I'm inclined to believe him, especially in that it supports most of my suppositions about training.

His lifting credentials are somewhat sparse, though his incredible strength is evident in his incredible array of non-lifting physical feats. According to the man, myth, legend, and greatest human ever, Chuck Norris, Lee was "was pound for pound one of the strongest men in the world (AOETHB, 22). According to Wikipedia, Lee was literally the love child of Superman and Godzilla, with the body of Brad Pitt in Fight Club. There, they list the following, citing John Little's "Art", "How Did Bruce Lee Get Those Washboard Abs" by Jack Seal, "Bruce Lee: Two Finger Pushup" published by Maniac World, "Words of the Dragon: Interviews 1958-1973" by John Little, and "Lethal Physique" by John Little:

Lee's striking speed from three feet with his hands down by his side reached five hundredths of a second.
  • Lee could take in one arm a 75 lb barbell from a standing position with the barbell held flush against his chest and slowly stick his arms out locking them, holding the barbell there for 20 seconds 
  • Lee's 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 demontration, 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.
  • Lee could throw grains of rice up into the air and then catch them in mid-flight using chopsticks.
  • Lee 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 aluminum cans).
  • Lee performed one-hand push-ups using only the thumb and index finger.
  • Lee performed 50 reps of one-arm chin-ups.
  • Lee 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.
  • Lee performed a sidekick while training with James Coburn and broke a 150 lb (68 kg) 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.

Clearly, the guy could do some impressive shit. In my mind, however, it was Lee's mindset that was the most brutal thing about him. Fuck kicking a huge guy across the room... the following is what he said to a friend:

When running with a student who was much older than Lee at a 6.5 mile pace, the guy said he couldn't go any further than three miles, or he'd "be liable to have a heart attack and die." Bruce's reply? "Then die." Later, Bruce explained his response: "if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it'll spread over into the rest of your life. It'll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. Ther are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level." (AOETHB, 23)

That, my friends, is what it's all a-fucking-bout. Fuck the hokey pokey. In the words of the great Ivan Drago, Lee pretty much fucking Russianed up and said, "if he dies, he dies." His lifting regimen was just as insane.

The man is acknowledged for being an innovator and experimenter in fighting, as Jeet Kune Do makes a fairly good case for being the modern predecessor to MMA, and is likely integral in the formulation of MMA's training styles.  He, however, didn't end his experimentation there, as he was extremely knowledgeable about exercise science and a variety of training methodologies, and he experimented wildly with them to find the ultimate weight training style.  Lee believed that weight raining was integral to the development of speed, as he saw speed as a byproduct of strength and power.  Like his fighting style, he utilized aspects of a wide array of methodologies to find what worked for him, and his work remained unfinished at his death, we do know, however, that Lee trained "instinctively" (AOETHB, 22), which meant that he pretty much trained around the clock, be it lifting, running, kung fu, kickboxing, or grappling with the legendary badass Gene LeBell. He also incorporated some wacky old-school shit like the one arm clean and press, and used a wide variety of programs ranging from circuit training on free weights to the same on machine, to full body routines, to doing all sorts of crazy bullshit involving a weightlifting apparatus resumbling a bow, called a Bull Worker.

According to Tom Bleeker, his experimentation didn't end there, as he stacked multiple steroids steroids for long periods of time, cortisone for pain, and diuretics for definition. (Unsettled Matters, 45, 55, 95, 96 ) Additionally, used protein supplements, and used a TENS unit while he slept to get more muscular stimulus in while he slept.

As for training, he might be most famous for his use of the precursor to circuit training, known as PHA.  PHA (Peripheral Heart Action) consists of lifting in a circuit, whereby you alternate upper and lower body lifts. This system, "developed by Dr Arthur Steinhaus, and popularised by bodybuilder Bob Gajda... [is] often confused with circuit training, [though] the goals are somewhat different.  In PHA, trainees seek to keep the blood flowing strongly through the body, throughout the entire workout. The smaller muscles around the heart are worked on first, followed by the larger muscles around the body's periphery.  Although the basic structure of a PHA workout is similar to that used in Circuit Training, there is a key difference in approach. In PHA, exercises are selected that will enable the trainer to pump blood to the extreme ends of the body, aiding overall circulation and seeking to reduce a build-up of lactic acid.

As an example, here is a 'typical' PHA workout. Note that the exercises alternate between focusing on upper and lower body muscle groups, with different areas being worked each time. These exercises would collectively comprise one cycle, with 5-6 cycles generally being performed. The resistance of each exercise is increased for each new cycle.
  • Standing Overhead Press
  • Squat
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Standing Calf Raise
  • Push-up
  • Abdominal Crunch

Each exercise is performed for 10-12 repetitions, with the trainee moving directly onto the next exercise at the culmination." (http://straighttothebar.com/forums/entry.php?282-A-Brief-History-of-Circuit-Training-and-Peripheral-Heart-Action-(PHA))

He also trained on a Marcy Circuit Trainer while doing PHA. In December of 1972 he purchased "a nine station Marcy Circuit Trainer, which was shipped to him in Hong Kong and set up in the following month.  This enabled Lee to take full advantage of the Circuit Training approach, with 30-60 sec bouts on each of the following stations" (straighttothebar):
  • bench press
  • lat pull-down
  • two high pulleys
  • two low pulleys
  • an isometric rack
  • roman chair
  • shoulder press
  • chinning bar
  • leg press"
Additionally, he did another full-body barbell workout John Little called the "Lethal Physique" Bodybuilding Program, which is odd because Lee trained for strength, speed, and power, not aesthetics, which is the goal of bodybuilding. That aside, this workout was the obvious byproduct of the fact that Lee read a lot of old-school physique culture books (it was reported that he owned a very dog-eared copy of Eugen Sandow's Strength and How to Obtain It) consisted of:
  • Clean & Press
  • Squats
  • Pullovers
  • Bench Presses
  • Good Mornings
  • Barbell Curls
Over the course of his career, Lee gained between 20 and 30 lbs, in spite of the fact that he was training literally around the fucking clock, on a tremendously small frame.  According to the website Divine Wind, Lee weighed 155 in the scenes in Game of Death (1973), where he busted a pretty sick lat spread in the opening credits.  Given that he started at a bodyweight around 125-130 in the mid-1960's, those are pretty fucking impressive gains.  The moral of this story?  Provided you are consistent, and you don't care if your training partners drop the fuck dead in the midst of a workout, gains will be had.  Just stay away from Hashish- that shit had Bruce looking like an old-school Michael Jackson right before he permanently fucked off.


  1. Nice write up, great research. This is one guy I have read a LOT about, and you nailed it on the details.

  2. Yo Jamie,

    Thanks for backing me up, dawg. When I was commenting a few weeks a go, everyone was all "Whose this Asian guy?" Then they all started h8ing on me.

    This should be a clear message to everyone. Dracoy is the Asian Chaos and Pain, straight vouched by Jamie himself.

    Suck it h8rs.


  3. Good post, Lee is admired in many circles: martial arts, gymnastics, bodybuilders, ...

    I keep wondering what he did to become so extremely fast. I know of no living people who can snatch a coin from someones hand, or generate so much momentum in punches/kicks. What do you think is the key to improve ones speed?

  4. 'straight vouched by Jamie himself'

    Maybe I missed this part?

    Anyway nice post - bruce lee is a hero in the fitness world.

  5. I get it. There was also articles that mentioned white guys who are 6 foot tall and 220, so I'm the tall and white Chaos and Pain, straight vouched for, h8ers.

  6. If the extraordinary suit of muscles was never the primary objective behind his training, why the multiple steroids for long periods of time, cortisone for pain, and diuretics for definition, protein supplements, and TENS unit for extra muscular stimulus? It seems like he was doing what you do - going for the speed, strength, agility AND looks. I don't doubt he was an incredible athlete ... but I don't doubt that he wanted to look a certain way - and it wasn't an accident.

  7. There's A LOT of exaggeration and outright bullshit out there about Bruce Lee at this point. Don't believe everything you read about him.

  8. So says the officially designated Scottish ChAoS and PAIN, hahahaha.

  9. The steroids were for strength, the cortisone was because he broke his back and had all sorts of back problems, and the diuretics were for aesthetics, haha.

  10. how about actually writing a full post about training?... maybe tonight so when i cant sleep (monsters under my bed) i have something to do

  11. Hey jamie i have a question for you. You start out the blog about de evolution (aka harden the fuck up) stating that christianity has helped with the de evolving process.(Im not disagreeing). I was just wondering what your views on religion are or what you believe in.

  12. Dude who gives a shit what Jamie's religious views are or if he played basketball with the lepers in Bangladesh during his world travels or any other such nonsense? No offense Jamie but I agree with the above. How about some training articles? Or how about an "ask the asshole"? Unless of course someone asks you where you buy your jocks. Just sayin.

  13. Yeah I heard he fucked up his back doing good mornings right?

    Anyway here's a crazy vid of him beating another dude at ping pong using nunchuks instead of a paddle.

  14. If you write a blog, does it really seem unusual that somebody might have a question or two that is off topic? He's doing this to share information.
    Also, if you cruise the web, Jamie has a bunch of "off topic" posts regarding religion and politics. He's not shy. It was a fair question.

  15. How about some of you bitches quit whining about what Jamie does or does not write in his fucking free time and get back to training.

    The last I checked that's why we're all here and I doubt your pointless comments fire him up to sit down for a few hours simply to appease you fuck heads.

  16. Retards. Or Ri-tards, even. That ping pong vid is fake. That was an ad for a Nokia phone in '08 with a Bruce Lee impersonator employing nunchuku in redirecting ping pong balls. It's most likely CGI ... though Bruce Lee probably could have done it, while covering both sides of the table.

  17. I think it's hilarious that anybody thought that ping pong video was actually Bruce Lee. People will believe anything about that guy.
    When I first started reading about him 20 or so years ago, that 75 lb barbell hold out was done with two hands. Now apparently he did it with only one hand. In another 20 years he'll have levitated it using only his mind.
    He also used to train on a 75-lb heavy bag. Now that's been inflated to 150-200 lbs. It will be 300 soon enough.
    I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings though. I'm sure everything you've ever read about Bruce Lee is 100 per cent true. Just like everything you've read about Chuck Norris.

  18. Glen has a pretty good point here.

  19. I read a Joe Lewis interview in which it was a 300 lb bag, hahaha. Joe Lewis basically said every single thing you read about Lee is bullshit.

    I think the one arm thing is a typo on wiki. It was two arms The Art Of Expressing the Human Body.

    For the rest of you retards, this is a blog entry about training. What the fuck is wrong with your reading comprehension?

  20. With hand eye coord to catch grains of rice with chopsticks, he should've just picked any ball sport and absolutely dominated.
    What total bs, I wouldn't believe any of it. There are plenty of amazing strength feats out there without rehashing this cvnt.

  21. I knew Bruce was tough, but I had no idea. What is he doing these days?

  22. He was in the Crow but then he died.

  23. Must have taken a real badass to get the best of him. At least we still have Norris and Carradine.

  24. Carradine is dead too.