Did you know this Thanksgiving was Bruce Lee’s 74th birthday? What better time to pit him against the Texas Ranger himself?
Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris are two of the best known martial artists in the world, and have been regarded as top entertainment fighters for decades. They have been internationally celebrated for their unique fighting styles and expertise. But if they were both in the arena, who would win the fight?
When trying to compile a list of some of the most notable figures in martial arts, it’s almost guaranteed that Bruce Lee will come to mind. Born on November 27th, 1940 in San Francisco, California, Bruce Lee began teaching martial arts at the age of 19. He taught what he called Jun Fan Gung Fu, which translates literally to “Bruce Lee Kung Fu.” It was his own approach to Wing Chun, which is a Chinese form of martial arts based on utilizing striking and grappling as a form of self-defense. Lee performed various tricks and maneuvers at the Long Beach International Karate Championships in 1964, including the two finger push-up (using only the thumb and index finger of one hand) and the “unstoppable punch” against USKA world Karate champion Vic Moore. Lee threw a straight punch at Moore’s face and stopped before impact. In eight different attempts, Moore failed to block a single punch.
Lee was exposed to films at a young age, as his father was a famous Chinese opera singer. He performed several roles as a child actor, but in adulthood, he created a body of martial arts classics like Enter the Dragon, Fists of Fury, Return of the Dragon, and The Game of Death. In all of these, Lee performed his own stunts, leaving audiences astonished at his grace, style, and agility (in honor of Lee’s birthday, the El Rey Network showed a “Way of the Turkey” marathon of Kung Fu movies, including many of Lee’s classics; tune in if you have DirecTV).
Chuck Norris, who trained with Lee and starred with him in Return of the Dragon, was born on March 10th, 1940 and raised in Oklahoma. Norris’ career in martial arts began in his twenties when he participated in various Karate tournaments and championships. He initially started off on a losing streak, being defeated in his first two tournaments and later losing all three matches at the International Karate Championships by Tony Tulleners. However, in 1969, he won Karate’s triple crown for the most tournament wins of the year, and went on to make history in 1990 when he became the first Westerner in the documented history of the martial arts field of Tae Kwon Do to be given the rank of 8th Degree Black Belt Grand Master.
Norris’ movie career began in the 1969 film The Wrecking Crew, but it wasn’t until 1972 that he met Lee at a martial arts demonstration in Long Beach. The two sparred together frequently, with Lee often beating Norris, but became friends. Norris played the nemesis of Lee in the The Way of the Dragon, which many agree is what launched him into stardom.
Now, taking into consideration that both Lee and Norris both reached their martial arts peak in the early seventies (before Lee’s unfortunate death in 1973), who would have won a fight with them both at their best level of physical fitness and mastery? The widely debated issue has gotten downright scientific, with some even going so far as to analyze the differences between Lee’s and Norris’ stances and coming up with formulas to prove who the real winner would be. Others choose to stay out of the debate altogether, with the rebuttal that neither Lee nor Norris were professional fighters, but instead performers who merely staged well-choreographed fights. Authentic, yes, but not real.
Personally, I find that both men were professional fighters and performers. They both have experience in tournaments and championships, none of which they would have been able to win if they were measly martial arts stylists. But when it comes down to it, Lee would have more than likely taken out Norris in a battle. Why? Because of his sheer, unadulterated agility, endurance, and dedication. Bruce Lee was an amateur boxer, and a master of martial arts to the extent that he instructed others. He won countless tournaments and events, and while Norris was clearly an impressive contender and fighter himself, he was simply excellent, while Lee was–and still remains, to this day–unmatchable.
Article by contributor Beth Kelly.
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