Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris are both legendary martial arts icons, but their lives could hardly be more different. As Biography tells us, Lee’s original name was Lee Jun Fan, and he was born in California to an immigrant family from Hong Kong in 1940, reportedly in “both the hour and the year of the dragon.” He spent his entire life in the limelight as a child actor, dancer, poet … and eventually, a martial artist, teacher and movie star of considerable renown. There’s no telling how high his star would have risen, had he not died of a mysterious, possibly prescription painkiller-induced brain edema at the age of only 32.
Norris was also born in 1940 and became a famous martial artist, but that’s where the similarities end. He was a shy kid and a mediocre student who married his high school sweetheart before discovering martial arts while serving in Korea with the U.S. Air Force. In the 1960s, he became a Karate instructor and an owner of over 30 Karate schools, while also crafting a career as “one of the greatest fighters in martial arts” and a multiple-time Karate champion.
As many martial arts movie fans know, the two legends have faced each other onscreen, and their epic Colosseum fight in The Way of the Dragon (a.k.a Return of the Dragon) is the subject of many rave reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Was that their only interaction, though, or is there more to their relationship? Did their status as high-profile martial artists make them mortal enemies or staunch allies? Or were they just two ships briefly passing each other at sea, only stopping for a single ten-minute sequence of power posing and lethal face kicks? The realities of time and mortality prevent us from hearing Lee’s version of the two men’s relationship, but luckily, the world’s favorite spin-kicking Texas Ranger and the subject of a thousand memes is still with us. So, let’s see what Norris has to say about this!
Chuck Norris on his relationship with Bruce Lee
Hooray! Chuck Norris was actually on great terms with Bruce Lee! According to Norris’ own words on WorldNetDaily (via Black Belt Magazine), he and Lee not only knew each other, but hung out together and even sparred on occasion. Norris says Lee was extremely “charismatic and friendly” both in person and on the silver screen. The bearded karate legend also says he “totally enjoyed sparring and just spending time with him.”
While it’s heartwarming to know that the Jeet Kune Do innovator and the karate master were actually great buddies in real life, Norris also answers the real question on everyone’s lips: What would have happened if the two had faced each other in a for-realsies competition? Sadly, he refuses to name a winner, and tactfully dodges the question with a Lee-style philosophy nugget he calls a Bruceism: “Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.”
How did Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris get to know each other?
It appears that Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris genuinely enjoyed spending time with each other, as they had plenty of respect for each other’s skills and philosophy. As Mixed Martial Arts tells us, the men met at the 1967 All American Karate Open Championships at Madison Square Garden, where Lee gave a demonstration of his techniques and Norris took home the championship. The two men started talking, and a long discussion about their respective “fighting philosophies” led to a no doubt epic corridor sparring session that lasted until 4 am.
You’re basically required to form a friendship after a first meeting like that, so that’s precisely what Lee and Norris did. For the next two years, they met up in Los Angeles to train in Lee’s backyard, and the habit only ended when Lee relocated in Hong Kong to quite literally kick-start his movie career. And hey, speaking of kicks: As a noted master of swooping high kicks and roundhouses, Norris has said that it was actually he who convinced Lee to see their usefulness. “Bruce had different philosophies at that time than I did,” Norris tells us. “He said, ‘I believe in only kicking below the waist. I believe you shouldn’t go any higher than the waist.'” Norris, in turn, argued that you should absolutely kick the opponent wherever they’re dumb enough to allow you to, and backed up his argument with an array of his famed high kicks. This impressed Lee greatly, and he started incorporating Norris’ higher kick techniques in his arsenal.
To be fair, Lee had already performed his fair share of onscreen high kicks at that point, so it’s not like Norris taught him an entirely new skill out of the blue. Still, Lee certainly seems to have remembered his old sparring partner fondly, because when he was looking for a truly hardcore onscreen opponent a few years later, he picked up the phone and called his old friend about this thing called The Way of The Dragon. The rest, as they say, is history.
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