Very few men become legends, but Bruce Lee was no regular man. In his short but exhaustive career, the iconic Kung Fu star honed a legacy rivaled by few. His quick-fire moves, athleticism and unparalleled determination catapulted him to cult status in the early 1970s as he cartwheeled through many martial arts movies and paved the way not only for the genre's success, but for stars like Jackie Chan.
As with any legend, it's tough to separate the man from the myth. Enter Birth of the Dragon, an upcoming movie that concerns itself with one of the biggest question marks in Bruce Lee's career: His mysterious fight against the relatively unknown martial arts grandmaster, Wong Jack Man. Inspired by a true event, the movie promises to delve into the heart of this infamous battle — check out the trailer below:
Before the movie jump-kicks its way into theaters later this summer, let's take an in-depth look at the six main things you should know about Lee's mysterious opponent.
1. He Could Only Study In China For So Long
Born in Hong Kong in 1941, Wong Jack Man entered the world just four years after martial arts were featured in the Olympics for the first time, in the 11th Olympic event, which took place in Berlin in 1936. But the sport was threatened shortly thereafter. With the end of the Chinese Civil War, many of China's grandmasters fled to teach abroad. In the late '50s, independent teaching of martial arts was suppressed further, with the formation of the All-China Wushu Association, which aimed to regulate, restrict and standardize the martial arts. And that is probably why...
2. He Came To America To Teach The Jing Wu Way
Wong Jack Man was likely the first Chinese martial artist to arrive in the U.S. with the sole purpose of advancing skills taught in Jing Wu schools — also known as Ching Mo, Chin Woo, Ching Mou, Ching Wu, Jing Mo and Jing Wo. In the early '60s he brought the Jing Mo Athletic Association to San Francisco, and the school has been educating students in its art ever since. Some of the most successful players in the Kung Fu entertainment industry – even Kam Yuen, one of the stunt coordinators and actors on the '70s TV series Kung Fu, which Bruce Lee's wife claims was her late husband's idea — were taught by Wong.
This specific style of martial art is rather new — in the grand scheme of things — dating back only to the early twentieth century. In its 100+ years, however, the style has greatly influenced popular culture; the fictional kung fu character Chen Zhen (whom you'll know from movies such as Fist of Fury, Hero Youngster, and Legend of the Fist) is depicted as being a student of Huo Yuanjia a.k.a. the father of Jing Wu.
3. Wong Sifu: Still A Martial Arts Master
Now in his late seventies, Wong spent years teaching Chinese martial arts to young students and is now a renowned authority on the sport. Versed in many of the traditional modes of combat, his practices range from Jing Wu, Tai Chi and Xing Yi Quan to Northern Shaolin. These styles — like most martial arts — focus upon mental and spiritual development, in addition to exceptional and highly technical self-defense and combat skills.
In Cantonese and Mandarin, Wong is referred to by many as "Wong Sifu," a title reserved for the highly skillful, and for masters.
4. He Can Snap Wood With An Open Palm
In an insightful post courtesy of the Kai Yun Shaolin Academy, it's claimed that Wong has such a concentrated strength that he can (or at least, once could) break through sheets of wood with little issue:
As one elderly witness in the association states, “I witness Wong Sifu break a two inch wooden board against the grain with one light slap of his open palm. This demonstration illustrated how incredible his intrinsic energy really is.”
5. He's Mostly Known For Fighting Bruce Lee — But Nobody Really Knows How It Went Down
If you've heard of Wong Jack Man before, it's almost certainly because of a fight that took place at a San Francisco gym in 1964. His opponent was up-and-comer Bruce Lee, and the confusion surrounding the fight has rendered it one of the most intriguing battles in martial arts history. This fight is the focus of #BirthoftheDragon.
By 1964, Lee had been back in the US for five years, teaching the art of Wing Chun at his own school — the Jun Fan Gung Institute — and had garnered quite a reputation for himself. Hoping to take the horn-tooter down a peg or two, local Win Chun practitioner David Chin called upon Wong Jack Man as a worthy opponent, and locked in a fight between the two. At least, that's how the first version of the story goes.
In contrast, another account claims that the fight was at the best of many in the Chinese community, who were peeved at Lee for teaching the art of Wing Chun to non-Chinese students. It's said that the fight was hinged on an ultimatum: If Lee won, he could continue to teach as he pleased; if Wong won, Lee would close his school.
What went down during the combat is also up for debate. Some anecdotes from the few attendees claim the fight was brief, only a few minutes long, and dominated by Lee.
In contrast, Wong and Chen recounted that the fight lasted for around 20–25 minutes, much longer than some claims, and suggests that Wong Jack Man's traditional training made him a worthy opponent.
6. Wong's Legacy Lives On
Wong retired in 2005 after 45 years of teaching, yet his legacy lives on through his successor Rick Wing. Wing took over Wong's martial arts school, the Association of Ching Mo, and continues to conduct workshops at the Shaolin Temple. He also teaches Bak Sil Lum — another term for Northern Shaolin, the martial arts of Northern China — in the South Bay area of Los Angeles.
You can see Rick Wing in action via the following impressive sword display:
Birth of the Dragon roundhouse kicks its way into theaters August 25, 2017. Are you ready for the fight?
(Source: Shaolin Lomita)