The Only Footage of Bruce Lee Fighting for Real (1967)




Two years after the release of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, people are still arguing about its brief portrayal of Bruce Lee. Whether it accurately represented his personality is one debate, but much more important for martial-arts enthusiasts is whether it accurately represented his fighting skills. This could easily be determined by holding the scene in question up against footage of the real Bruce Lee in action, but almost no such footage exists. While Lee’s performances in films like Enter the Dragon and Game of Death continue to win him fans 48 years after his death, their fights — however physically demanding — are, of course, thoroughly choreographed and rehearsed performances.

Hence the way, in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Brad Pitt’s rough-hewn stuntman Cliff Booth dismisses screen martial artists like Lee as “dancers.” Those are fighting words, and indeed a fight ensues, though one meant to get laughs (and to illuminate the characters’ opposing physical and emotional natures) rather than seriously to recreate a contest between trained martial artist and simple bruiser.




As for how Lee handled himself in actual fights, we have no surviving visual evidence but the clips above, shot during a couple of matches in 1967. The event was the Long Beach International Karate Championships, where three years earlier Lee’s demonstration of such improbable physical feats as two-finger push-ups and one-inch punches got him the attention in the U.S. that led to the role of Kato on The Green Hornet.

In these 1967 bouts, the now-famous Lee uses the techniques of Jeet Kune Do, his own hybrid martial-arts philosophy emphasizing usefulness in real-life combat. “First he fights Ted Wong, one of his top Jeet Kune Do students,” says Twisted Sifter. “They are allegedly wearing protective gear because they weren’t allowed to fight without them as per California state regulations.” Lee is the one wearing the gear with white straps — as if he weren’t identifiable by sheer speed and control alone. Seen today, his fighting style in this footage reminds many of modern-day mixed martial arts, a sport that might not come into existence had Lee never popularized the practical combination of elements drawn from all fighting styles. Whether the man himself was as arrogant as Tarantino made him out to be, he must have suspected that martial-arts would only be catching up with him half a century later.

Related Content:

Bruce Lee’s Only Surviving TV Interview, 1971: Lost and Now Found

Bruce Lee Auditions for The Green Hornet (1964)

The Philosophy of Bruce Lee Gets Explored in a New Podcast

The Poetry of Bruce Lee: Discover the Artistic Life of the Martial Arts Icon

Watch 10-Year-Old Bruce Lee in His First Starring Role (1950)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Comments (45)
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  • Artimus says:

    fact correction: the sparring partner in this footage is not Ted Wong.

  • Mark McFarling says:

    Hmm I’ve seen this footage before. When I watch it in not very impressed. That could be me in there. Then I have to remember that he died before he was 30. Also back then as it is often today. You could watch someone spar and know what art they did, as well as who the instructors was. Also this is a light contact sparring match, not a fight. It amuses me how often people get the 2 confused. Matches are not fights they are contests with rules. This being said, I have studied JKD and learned the JKD front punch from Joe Lewis in a 2 hour seminar. I have used this technique many times in sparring matches as well as in real altercations and it has done me well in both.

  • Tony Leite says:

    Bruce Lee was the best. See how he hardly exerts himself to put opponent down.And those head shots without protective head gear would have certainly done some serious damage.

  • Biff Tannon says:

    You’re full of it. I seriously doubt you used these skills in a real combat situation. Full of it. You are a master of bs.

  • Enos says:

    Just imagine a thug.bought ticket’s to a concert and that thug talking tough I wish a mother f her be sitting my seats I paid for honey I wish I catch someone in our seats so she says that’s right my man don’t no crap from no one so finally find their seats guess who’s sitting their seats BRUCE LEE SO WHAT DOES THE WIFE SAY HONEY YOU GOT YOUR WISH SOMEONE IS SITTING IN OUR SEATS HE TELLS HIS WIFE SHUT UP LETS GET THOSE OTHER SEATS FARTHER DOWN

  • robert Klopp says:

    Obvious that Lee was a visual performer. I’ve been in awe of his complete visual and sensate focus offered on his movie forum. I don’t know whether or for the good of it he was an honest world beater of martial arts. He was very intense in scene and likened to a unbeatable dragon.so, no other martial artist has enamored me to such an extant as he did in his movies and books devoted to his art. Thanks, Bruce Lee, for being a great actor and stunning martial artist.

  • DC says:

    Quentin Tarantino is classless asshole. He did not have to portray a legend like Bruce Lee in a such a mockery type fashion. He also said Bruce Lee was cocky and arrogant in real life and I disagree. Bruce Lee as an Asian man looking for an acting role in Hollywood in the 1960’s and 70’s had to work 10x as hard and be confident as hell to land a role. He couldn’t be meek, passive and lacking in any confidence. Muhammad Ali was also an extremely confident person but Quentin would never mock Ali or ever call Ali arrogant! So why Bruce Lee, a world wide legend. You be the judge.

  • James Ching says:

    First of all, as a fellow martial artist with over 30 years of training under the belt and mastery of 5 styles in Kungfu, I can tell this.
    1. This was an exhibition sparring match. Not a real fight.
    2. Bruce is indeed taking it easy, compare it to footage of actually sparring with his students, he is more engaging on the offense than in this exhibition.
    3. Nonetheless…these head blows seem to really affect his “opponent” no doubt the hit is harder than we can imagine.
    4. Last of all…everybody who calls Bruce a showman, you’re only partially right. Yes he was a showman but martial arts wise…he was a real streetfighter, that’s how he ended up in the States in the 1st place. He had to flee Hong Kong after he put the governor’s nephew in the hospital in a streetfight.
    5. The basis for his Jeet Kune Do is Wing Chun, which is a really pragmatic and effective martial arts form, very direct and straightforward, as a wing Chun practitioner I can attest to that but feel free to look it up.

  • eddietnycperrisca says:

    I love how people like pull each other down and degrade each other. Well I have a Bruce Lee fan and he was good at what he did. Now that being said, Martial Arts is useless these days. For one reason and only one, if you approach me with boxing, street fighter, or martial arts. I’ll take out my Glock 17 and you better hope that I don’t have 20 round clip because I can pump 7 rounds in you in under 5 seconds. You better hope that I dont empty the clip in you then take out the 17 round clip. So, again why are we arguing about a person that died when I was 1? Including the useless martial arts.

  • Michael Mathews sr says:

    I love all of Bruce Lee movie’s know matter which one’s

  • Justin Atilano says:

    So Then Is It Safe To Say..That..Said Mr.Ted Wong,Is In Fact Mr. Ted WRONG!!!!!

  • Seth says:

    Spoken like a true idiot. It is people like you that can find a problem in art. I have practiced martial arts and I am an Army combat veteran so I feel more than qualified to answer this. Martial arts are not about who the toughest moron in the block is. A true martial artist will not fight unless given no choice. Instead they will find a way not to fight. Bruce Lee was an artist and was at the top of his art and sport. So what would happen if your trusty Glock jammed or your aim is not as good as your ego? Anyone who goes into a fight with only one weapon is a fool. Martial arts are also about discipline, about respect, and honor something wholly lacking in today’s world.

  • Victor says:

    Seth,

    Very good analysis I agree with you totally about Bruce Lee he was definitely a innovator and ahead of his time.

  • Angelo says:

    What the director did on the movie with Brad Pitt as an actor it was offensive and disrespectful Bruce Lee was not onot only an actor but he was a real stain of course they don’t have very much evidence but a man who trained like that the way he trained he trained he makes you think and make you make you say wow this guy can do this how powerful he can be in real life that is only an evidence But people envious people always say things that are convenient to them because they’re envy Bruce Lee was a good guy

  • Enos says:

    In the enter the dragon they way he smacked BOB WALL AROUND YOU CAN TELL IT WAS REAL LOOK AT ALL THE GUYS IN THE YELLOW GHEES when Jim Kelly & JOHN SAXON DID THEIR PART IN THE TOURNAMENT THET DIDNT GET NO STANDING OVATION LOOK AT HOW IN AHH THEY ARE EVERY TIME HE STRIKES A BLOW AT BOB WALL AND DONT YOU EVEN GET ME STARTED WITH THOSE ALMOST CAN’T SEE THOSE ROUND HOUSE KICKS LEAVING BOB WALLS HEAD I DIDN’T SAY COMING I SAID LEAVING WHEN THE DIRECTOR HAS TO EDIT.YOUR strikes kicks blocks slow it down so we the audience at movies can see what we can’t see in TIME NOW THAT’S FAST TO THIS DAY RIGHT NOW AT HIS AGE OF 79 IF HE WAS A LIVE A M M A COULDN’T GIVE BRUCE LEE A GOID FIGHT HOW ABOUT THIS MY MONEY’S ON THE OLD ELDERLY SENIOR CITIZEN CHINESE MAN ARE WE DONE NOW

  • James Brockton says:

    What are you a teenager? What nonsense is this? Now everyone walks around with a Glock and is willing to use it like you are. Martial Arts gives you confidence and the ability to defend yourself and keeps you in good shape. Yeah martial arts is so useless that there’s a whole sport like the UFC for it. Idiot.

  • Quiet Storm says:

    Also, winning the division and taking 1st place at the age of 18, I again credit Bruce, for giving me inspiration to achieve such a lofty goal.

    Jim

  • Meboi says:

    This is ignorant.

  • Karel Fodor says:

    Hledáte odpoved.?Je velmi zvláštní,že Bruce lee je v každém z nás cítíte tu energii tý ruce nohy technika.Dekujeme Bruce lee,že film on existoval.Musim souhlasit s Tarantino to neznamená zklamání on musel film co se tehda stalo

  • Daniel Thaler says:

    Bruce Lee was a phenom. GREAT MARTIAL ARTIST. GREAT, BUT LET’S NOT FORGET THIS LITTLE THING THEY DO IN MOVIES CALLED EDITING.

  • Jin says:

    @eddietnycperrisca

    Is that before or after you get disarmed, then what? You would only set yourself up to be killed (By law) because you wanted to be a chicken weakling and pull out a gun on an unarmed person, that says a lot about you!

    Martial Arts teaches you how to defend yourself, not to go around looking for fights, engaging in fights is the last thing on the mind of someone who has learned martial arts in some way!

    It also teaches you how to neutralize your opponent, how to attack their spirit just enough so they know that picking a fight with you was the wrong thing to do!

  • Foxtrot says:

    NOT A REAL FIGHT!!! This was a demo!! The guy who put up this up flat out lied on the title of the footage to get hits. How this is still making rounds ad a real fight beats me. He did have boxing fights in HK and a fight with Wong Jack Man. Not caught on video. Don’t believe everything you see out there folks.

  • Catrice Moore says:

    Mark Mcfarlling it’s haters like you that no one real pays any attention to in 2021. Bruce Lee is still the greatest in the spot. All sports are controlled by a higher corporation. The Mob owned boxing back when Muhammad Ali was supposed to be so great. Iron Mike Tyson is like Michel Jackson to the music industry. So what’s your point ? I love Bruce Lee I was very pleased and even if it was an quote unquote real fight that man is match for Bruce Lee, he is like bumble bee second to none. And for the record individual with negative mindset are very next to impossible to impress. Unless the light is always on them and t they aren’t doing anything at all except looking for the worst in others finding all the negativity even in a positive situation. And yet thinks they’re the best thing since the World Wide Web . No disrespect intended this is my opinion and I own it. 100% Bruce Lee was a rare gift the world was blessed with we will never get another one.

  • Cristian Truncali says:

    @eddienycperrisca I’m both a boxer an martial artist your comment is complete bullshit I’ve saved my own ass using my knowledge against my attackers I recently was stabbed in the throat nicked my artery and was .7in away from severing my artery I lost about a pint of blood and waited 15mins for an ambulance with my fingers in my throat not only was I able to defend myself but I was able to prevent others from getting hurt if you bring a gun or any weapon to a fist fight your a coward the weapons you have are your heart and your mind they maketh one with your body you yourself are the best weapon

  • Tommy Steele says:

    Why all the hate? Bruce Lee was a perfect gentleman… I am not a master of martial arts… But I have absolutely no respect for anyone that has to use a AR-15 to prove they are scared to death! And I doubt that Bruce would do anything except defeat him gracefully and show him Mercy! He was truly a man’s man.. it doesn’t take much self-respect or discipline to pull the trigger on an automatic weapon when the opponent has dedicated years to become an honorable artist! There is no art in owning a Glock with two clips in case he Dodges the entire first clip by barely moving his body.. and if he actually did get lucky and hit him with a bullet… It would only prove his proficiency in cowardice!. A very good friend of mine was a highly trained Navy SEAL! Someone you would not want to make angry! He wasn’t just talented at Marshall arts… He was trained to eliminate the threat in whatever fashion was the quickest… So if the opponent was unfortunate enough to be standing a little too close.. automatic weapon or not… In a matter of seconds his ribs would be broken from the inside out and his eyes would be missing from their sockets.. because this was war! One day they had him do an exhibition match with a very very old man! And they told him that he couldn’t touch him.. My friend thought they were telling him not to hurt the old man! So he threw a couple blows and pulled them… And the next thing he knew, the old man had moved so quickly, it wouldn’t have mattered if my friend gave it everything he had… eventually he became so frustrated by this 92-year-old man remaining untouched no matter what my friend did! And the best he could do, was hurt himself more by trying harder! The old man would use my buddies own inertia to allow him to become more aggressive until he kicked his own ass! Pardon my language… But Alvin said that he was so embarrassed that he was totally unable to touch this old man.. who never even broke a sweat, nor was he breathing hard.. as his elder made these slightest moves to allow my friend to wreak havoc on himself..!! that is the absence of fear due to extreme practice and concentration.. and taught my friend that he was barely a beginner! And only caused him to realize how little he actually knew even with a lifetime of training… And the friend I once new, now had learned a tremendous respect for his elders.. to never underestimate his opponent.. as the old man simply bowed to him to show respect!.. and said nothing…

  • WU YANG CLAN says:

    U R ALL FOOLS THIS WAS AS FAKE AS EVERYONE WHO RESPONDED 2 THIS NONSENSE..I AM THE ONE AND ONLY.THE ALMIGHTY KING OF THE NITETIME WORLDWIDE YOU WILL ALL KNEEL BEFORE ME..

  • Glenn says:

    Wow in the video you see Bruce and all of his Wang Chung masters. You are seeing Bruce and every one he has learned from.

  • Bob says:

    1st @ eddienycperrisca, it’s a magazine not clip..
    2nd @ Tommy Steele you don’t get to decide how people defend themselves. And AR-15s aren’t automatic weapons. They are semi automatic weapons. Educate yourself. Arming yourself is far from cowardly. And everyone has that navy seal friend…you’re so full of it. Dodging bullets…wth.

    3rd Bruce Lee was ahead of his time, a legend, yes..but in today’s world even in his prime against today’s MMA athletes he would get absolutely destroyed. He could beat a total standup guy most likely, say a McGregor, but as soon as a world class bjj or wrestler gets his hands on him, he would get smashed.

  • Suman Chakraborty says:

    Bruce Lee did not know much martial arts. The nunchaku scene is Enter the dragon was CGI.
    And Tarantino is the best director ever.

  • Michael says:

    I don’t care what any of you say Bruce Lee had response time. That’s all it takes. Some people have fast response time and some people do not. When I was younger nobody could hit me. I couldn’t do that now because my response time has slowed dramatically at 50. But when I was 20 I was untouchable.

    And when you look at Bruce’s accuracy to punch where he wants to punch in reference to where you can actually punch, and from what we know it does not take a hard shot to knock someone out, those punches that Bruce through that were at that man’s chin absolutely could have wobbled him if he hit him dead on the chin good even lightly.

  • John Stratford says:

    With all due respect.
    Bruce Lee wouldn’t last one round vs Connor McGregor, let alone ANY top 10 UFC MMA fighter in his weight class.
    Never since UFC 1 has a pure karate fighter come close. Karate is too one dimensional and too weak on the ground.
    Nuff said.

  • Ro says:

    Whatever Bruce lee was real or not he was an inspiration to many martial artists including ufc fighters so my respect for Bruce Lee.

  • Nicholas f says:

    Ur a master of your art and the 48 laws of power. NEVER OUTSHINE THE MASTER ALWAYS NEVER TEACH YOUR STUDENT EVERYTHING U KNOW BECUZ MR. GLOCK 9 JAMS U DIED SIR
    YOU SPEAK LOOK A PERSON WHO MASTER HIMSELF THANK.YOU FOR.YOUR TEACHING

  • Tim S says:

    Hey Suman, they didn’t have CGI when they made Enter the Dragon. It wasn’t even conceived yet.

  • Michael says:

    Really??? CGI??? You moron!!! What are you 5 years old? CGI didnt exsist back then!!! Do you know what a typewriter is? Dis you think Iphones invented the camera? Idiot!!!

  • Michael says:

    John Stratford! You sir are ignorant aa hell!! Have some damn respect and realized that millions have people have lived before your stupid ass! UFC fighters are just what you see now. Doesn’t mean they are bettee than anyone before you remember.. You think yourself too important in the scope of history

  • Rob Slawinski says:

    I used to work next to a gym where pure boxers and mma fighters worked out. There were a few fights outside the years that I worked there between the two. I would’ve thought the mma fighters would usually win but the pure boxers always got the better of it.

  • Roberto D. Ferrelli says:

    You best do your homework. He was 34 year’s old when he passed. And if you think you could get in the ring with a highly skilled Chinese Martial Artist you are really high or really stupid. Bruce could break the sound bearer with his fist. So if that brute speed and strength from a fist would make contact with a human head it would be decapitated! You Amateur’s need to shut up and become armchair quarterbacks because you don’t have a clue about the life of the Greatest Martial Artist of All Time!

  • Wing sung muk says:

    Nonsense.It was’nt a fight.It was an exhibition,one of many Bruce Lee gave over the years.Bruce Lee did not compete-ever.

  • Shawn says:

    Roberto there is no way he could break the sound barrier with his fist. The fastest recorded punch is about 45mph, even if we were to afford him double that speed at 90mph it doesn’t come close to the 770ish mph required to exceed the speed of sound. It’s fine to appreciate his skill and character, but, making outrageous claims like these makes it difficult to listen to you. The guy was an inspiration to many, and really doesn’t need fairy tales to be that person.

  • Steve Urso says:

    Bruce Lee is a skinny version of Steven Segal. Both are just good martial arts actors, who added a lot of mythical bullshit to their fame.

  • Patricia Ann Petisce says:

    How do we know that that’s really Bruce Lee? We never saw his face before or after the fight it could be anybody under that.

  • Tony says:

    Your are a real jackass that was Bruce Lee how dumb if he was here today day he would make the UFC an boxing look like bitchs becomes no one can bet him now or ever you jackass grow up Bruce Lee was that damn good

  • Tony says:

    Hey to the guy that said Bruce Lee died At 34 wrong Bruce Lee was 32 when he died you need to learn history of Bruce Lee I was born two year after he died go look it up

  • Rob Slawinski says:

    You just proved who the real jackass is by stated no one could ever beat him. Even Bruce Lee knew there was a good possibility he could have been beaten. Next time you should think about what you say before you make yourself look like an idiot. The correct way is, “My opinion is it would be extremely hard to beat Bruce Lee back then and now.”

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