Long before mixed martial arts became a mainstream sensation, actor and martial artist Bruce Lee advocated for a philosophy that embodied the core principles of the sport. Though MMA did not exist in an organized form during his lifetime, Lee’s approach to martial arts laid the groundwork for cross-training styles that define MMA today.
“He was the first true mixed martial artist because he was the first true guru that was shouting from the hills. Everything from all styles put together,” Joe Rogan explained to prowrestler and actor Dwayne Johnson during a recent podcast appearance.
Lee incorporated techniques from boxing, fencing, wing chun, judo, and other arts into his Jeet Kune Do style. He stressed adapting concepts from any effective discipline, rather than rigidly following one school of martial arts. This cross-training ideology closely reflects MMA’s core philosophy.
“You got to figure out. Figuring out how to adapt and move to every situation to be like water. Be formless. And he taught that philosophy and that philosophy eventually became mixed martial arts,” explained Johnson.
Though MMA pioneers like Rorion Gracie later played a more direct role in forming modern mixed martial arts, Bruce Lee laid the conceptual groundwork by advocating for adaptable, multi-disciplinary technique decades earlier. His influence on cross-training and hybrid fighting styles presaged the sport of MMA as we know it today.
And while many other martial artists frowned upon cross training and trying different disciplines – Lee encouraged it even when it was unsafe.