Monday, August 14, 2023

Wrath of the Dragon by John Little

The summer of 1988 was the fifteenth anniversary of Bruce Lee's passing. 

I pinpointed that particular time in history because - for me - it was when I was first introduced to films starring the Kung Fu expert.

One of my American cousins, who was staying with us at the time, took my sister and I to the video shop to rent out some videos. I cannot recall what my sister and I chose, but I sure do remember my cousin came home with The Way of the Dragon.

I loved that film. So much, in fact, that I watched it a second time before we had to take it back to the video store.

In the weeks, months and years that followed that introduction to Bruce Lee, I looked out for other films of his to loan out and - as they became more readily available - purchase for good.

My interest in martial arts movies expanded as I morphed into my teens opening the door for modern stars like Jean Claude Van Damme, Cynthia Rothrock and others.

The interest I had in Bruce Lee and those stars didn't expand beyond wanting to see their films. Well, not until I reached adulthood.

A few years ago, I found myself looking out for trailers of Bruce Lee films on YouTube and came across a number of videos that - for want of a better term - threw shade on Lee. 

The critics I stumbled across disputed nearly everything about Lee's background and claimed that his fighting style, and moves, were tricks of the camera. 

They claimed that Lee was a gimmick. Nothing more. Nothing less.

It left a sour taste in my mouth because it was more than Lee's reputation on the line. One of my childhood memories was also tarnished.

I spent years questioning whether I had been suckered in by 'legend'. I needed something to counter and I believe I have found just that in Wrath of the Dragon: The Real Fights of Bruce Lee by John Little.

Wrath of the Dragon: The Real Fights of Bruce Lee by John Little

Little's book covers Bruce Lee's entire life, but it's done in a way where the lens is focused on the real-life fights Lee battled along the way. 

Bruce Lee was the product of superstitious parents who feared their young boy would be taken away from evil spirits. To thwart the threat they believed in, Lee's mother and father dressed their son in female clothes and even enrolled their child in a girls' school.

Starting off the narrative with this piece of trivia made me question whether Bruce's journey to the masculine world of martial arts spun-off from his first years on this planet.

Wrath of the Dragon's concept appears to be make a strong case against those critics who point to the fact that Bruce Lee had never fought in a tournament environment to prove how great his skills really were.

With that in mind, I was particularly interested to see that - of all the real fights Little researched extensively since becoming a Bruce Lee fan from the age of twelve - Lee doesn't appear to have lost in any.

But, the critics keep pointing out that Lee didn't fight in real competition.

Or did he?

In an early part of the book, Little writes about a schools boxing tournament Bruce was a participant in. Lee obviously didn't use Wing Chung Kung Fu - the art he was two years into studying at the time of the boxing meet - in his fight with his rival, Gary Elms, however - it's safe to say that his combat skills were good enough on the day.

Lee defeated Elms in the three-round bout and did so against a formidable opponent who entered the ring as a dominant champion in their weight class.

Yes, it wasn't a kung fu battle, but it - to me - worked in favour for those who would like to argue that Lee would have performed well in a regulated contest in front of an audience.

Little's coverage of the school boxing event was amazing. I was surprised how much the author was able to research considering how long ago it took place. Little not only relayed the Lee .vs. Elms fight, he was able to give out the results for all of the other contests to highlight how Bruce and his classmates were deemed the underdogs to the other schools.

Even though I feel Bruce Lee's boxing win is important to highlight his skills in a regulated combat environment, a kung fu fight - which appears in the book's tenth chapter - is very significant.

It saw Bruce Lee accept the challenge of Wong Jack Man with the pair fighting behind closed doors with only a handful of eyewitnesses.

The 'Rumble in Oakland', as Little titled it in the chapter, resulted in Lee forcing his foe to 'yield'. Despite being victorious, Lee had to do so by chasing his backpedalling opponent and this - Lee realised - affected his energy resulting in Lee learning from the experience and improving his technique.

Little closed the chapter by noting that 'Neither Wong Jack Man nor Bruce Lee could have imagined that this encounter would be held up as one of the most significant fights in American martial arts history'.

Yet again, I was amazed at the amount of detail John Little was able to uncover about the 'Rumble in Oakland' especially because of the limited number of witnesses.

I was naïve to assume that Bruce Lee wouldn't have had his detractors during his lifetime. That made it even more stunning for me to read that he had his challenges while working on the set of his own movies.

Little was able to write about some extras on Enter the Dragon coming out during days of filming to lay challenges to the main star. Naturally, Lee won those encounters.

The book closes with John Little piecing together some words from Lee's contemporaries, and others who were inspired by the late star, to echo how important he was - and still is - to martial arts over fifty years since he passed away.

I felt fulfilled when I finished reading Wrath of the Dragon because I learned so much about Bruce Lee's life. My faith in Lee not being a fraud has been redeemed. And it's thanks to Wrath of the Dragon.

There are far too many sources in the book with the same stories. If there's corelation like that, then the legend has to be true.

Wrath of the Dragon: The Real Fights of Bruce Lee by John Little will be published as an eBook on September 5 2023. The physical copy will be published here in the UK on November 14 2023.

Buy Wrath of the Dragon from Amazon UK

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